Been Pulled Over? Know Your Legal Rights

By | January 9, 2012

Getting pulled over by a police officer can be an anxiety-inducing moment for anyone, even those who know that they haven’t done anything wrong. But while too many people channel their anxiety into aggression for the police officer, it’s important to first understand what your rights are – and what the officer’s rights are, as well.

Here are a few tips for dealing with police officers once you’ve been pulled over.

Show Basic Respect for the Police Officer

While you may think you know what rights you have as a citizen – and you may be right – it’s important to realize that police officers also have rights when they pull someone over. That means they can escalate any interaction into an arrest if you physically abusive or similarly resistant at any point. Instead, it’s better to show basic respect for the police officer. You are not legally required to be polite, but basic politeness should help the interaction go more smoothly. As the saying goes, those who look for trouble usually have a way of finding it.

Don’t Act Suspicious and You Won’t Be Suspicious

Police officers cannot search your vehicle without cause, but it is not very difficult for them to find cause, either. That’s why it’s important that you don’t hide anything from a police officer while pulling over or even while waiting for the officer to arrive. If the officer has reason to suspect you’re hiding something in the vehicle, they may then be within their rights to search your vehicle, even though you may claim that they don’t have this right.

Keep in mind that even a police officer who has seen suspicious movement as you’re pulling over might be within their rights to search your vehicle. In essence, it’s a good idea not to keep anything suspicious in your vehicle for this very reason.


It’s important that you’re compliant with a police officer at each point. Yes, you have certain rights as a citizen, but you’d be surprised how quickly these go out the window when you’ve already been pulled over. Because many police officers can turn traffic stops into longer searches of suspicious activity, it’s important that you be compliant with the traffic stop and don’t focus on anything else. If the police officer asks for your license and registration, you should hand the license and registration to the police officer in a timely manner. Arguing won’t assert your personal rights, because the police officer, once you’re pulled over, does have some degree of authority over you.

It’s also important that you realize that police officers should generally do most of the talking. Let them speak first – but don’t let them speak without a reply.

Your Rights When Pulled Over

Many people make the mistake of assuming police officers are severely limited once they’ve pulled you over – this is not always the case. All they need is probable cause to search you (via frisking) or your vehicle and they can be legally justified in looking for any potential criminal activity.

Any search without probable cause, however, is not justified, which means it’s important for you to keep a clean vehicle and not make any suspicious movements. The more compliant you are with police officers during a traffic stop, the less power you give them.

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