Know Your Rights — and Stay Calm if Pulled Over by Police

Seattle Police Department officers routinely pull over motorist for traffic infractions and on suspicious of drunk driving among other reasons.

Seattle Police Department officers pull over motorists if there is suspicion of drunk driving among other reasons.

It’s important it is to know your legal rights, and what is and is not permissible to do when you are pulled over by a police officer.

There’s the law—what is legally permissible for the officer and the motorist to do. And then there’s the reality of how such encounters with police can play out.

Given that reality, there are some things to keep in mind in order to prevent a situation from becoming contentious or dangerous if you and an officer are not seeing “eye to eye” after you’ve been pulled over.

Some things to keep in mind:

1. You have the right to remain silent. That is true whether you’ve just been temporarily detained or formally arrested. There are some instances, like during a traffic stop, where you must provide your license, registration, insurance, and name, when asked. And there are some states where you are required to answer basic identifying questions (name and address) by the police. You not required to give a statement beyond that. You can say, “I choose not to answer that question.”

2. You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your car. There are situations in which the police will pull someone over and ask whether the driver would mind if they “take a look” inside the car. You don’t have to give permission. That is your right. Keep in mind that the police have probable cause to search your car, or if you’re under arrest, they can search you, and sometimes your vehicle, whether you give your consent or not.

3. If you are arrested, you have the right to ask for an attorney and should do so immediately. If you have been stopped temporarily, you’re not entitled to an attorney. If you’re being held for an extended period of time, either they’re going to have to let you go or place you under arrest.

4. If you’ve been stopped (but not arrested) you have the right to ask the officer if you’re free to go. If they say yes, you should calmly walk — not run — away from the scene.

5. Try to remain calm and be as polite as possible. Even if your rights have been violated, you’re not going to argue your way out of the problem. It’s a good idea to make sure the police can see your hands, and that you don’t make sudden movements, interfere with what they are trying to do, or give false statements.

6.  Pay close attention to the situation whenever you are interacting with a police officer. If you’ve had a negative experience, or think your constitutional rights were compromised, you should keep track of what’s occurred, including the officer’s name and badge number, and pursue a complaint afterwards.

(The above are excerpts taken from an article in TIME magazine authored by Jason Williamson, a lawyer with the ACLU.)

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