Getting stopped by law enforcement can be a stressful experience, whether
or not you have anything to hide. Most people will be pulled over several
times during their driving career, usually for minor
traffic violations. However, a routine stop can quickly become a serious situation if the
officer suspects the driver or passenger(s) of committing a crime.
You should be aware of your rights if you are ever pulled over in California.
Sometimes, drivers believe they may be unfairly treated by police, which
is why it is essential to know what protections are available to you.
What to Do During a California Traffic Stop
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from being forced
to say anything which could help the government convict you. You have a right
not to answer an officer’s questions when he or she asks you things like:
- Have you been drinking tonight?
- Where are you coming from?
- Where are you going?
- Do you know how fast you were going?
- Do you know why I pulled you over?
You don’t have to answer these or other questions posed by the officer;
the only thing you are legally obligated to do is to identify yourself.
You cannot be detained or arrested just for exercising your right to remain
silent. However, not talking to the officer may increase the officer’s
suspicion which can lead to a detention or arrest. Sometimes not cooperating
with the police may even be interpreted as resisting arrest or obstructing justice.
Things can get out of hand quickly. If the driver only identifies him or
herself and says nothing else the officer may ask the driver to step out
of the car. Once out of the car the driver may be searched for the safety
of the officer and even arrested if there is evidence of a crime. Police
may then search the car after the arrest or after the car is towed or
Here are some practical tips on what to do during a traffic stop:
- Keep your hands on top of the steering wheel in plain view.
Produce your license, insurance information, and registration when asked.
do not volunteer any other information.
- When it seems appropriate, ask if you are free to go. If you are not, politely
ask for what reason you are being detained.
- If the officer asks if he or she can conduct a search of your vehicle or
person, clearly but politely decline to give consent. He or she may conduct
the search anyway, but you will have clearly declined it for the record.
- Never lie to the police. Instead, exercise your right to remain silent.
- Always be respectful and courteous to the police while standing your ground.
Do not “cop” an attitude with the officer.
- Sign the Citation when it is given to you.
What if the Officer Wants to Conduct a DUI Test?
If the officer who pulled you over suspects you are driving under the influence
of alcohol or drugs, he or she may ask you to submit to a
DUI test. In California, you have a right not to submit to this test, but
it generally will not benefit you. The penalty for refusing this test
is an automatic one-year driver’s license suspension and your refusal
will give the officer a reason to arrest you. It is usually better to
submit to the test when asked and have an experienced DUI attorney challenge
the results later.
You Have the Right to an Attorney
If you have been pulled over by law enforcement and have been accused of
a crime in connection with your traffic stop, such as possession of an
illegal weapon or
possession of illegal drugs, you have a right to remain silent and to retain the services of an attorney.
At Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners, we have handled countless Los
Angeles cases that started with a traffic stop. No matter what type of
crime you are being accused of, we have the experience, skill, and resources
it takes to pursue good results for our clients. For a free and confidential
evaluation of your case, contact a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney
at our firm.
Call (213) 481-6811, or fill out an online
case evaluation form.