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Your Rights During a Police Stop
Imagine you are driving home late one night and you see blue lights behind you. What do you do? Understanding your legal rights during a police stop can be beneficial, and effectively exercising those rights can make a big difference in the outcome of a potentially problematic situation. Having an effective legal advocate in your corner is also extremely important following an arrest, especially if an officer has violated your rights during a police stop. For more than 10 years, San Bernardino and Riverside drug crime attorney Gregory H. Comings has been defending the civil rights of local residents who are facing charges related to possession, trafficking, cultivation, and other offenses. If we believe that police acted improperly during a traffic stop, search, or seizure, we will fight to have any illegally obtained evidence excluded at trial.
Simply being pulled over is not a “big deal” in and of itself. While police are not allowed to detain someone on a whim (reasonable suspicion is required), the officer may only intend to cite you for a minor violation, such as a non-functioning tail light. However, once you have been pulled over, several things can occur. The officer may smell something like drugs or alcohol when you roll down your window. He could see something, such as drug paraphernalia or a weapon, while speaking with you. He may also run your driver’s license or your vehicle’s plates through a law enforcement database, which could reveal an outstanding warrant or an issue with the ownership of the car. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can help guide you through the legal system if your traffic stop turns into something more serious.
What you say and do as well as how you act during a traffic stop can have a big impact on whether a simple moving violation escalates into an arrest for a more serious crime, like drug conspiracy. There are a few things to keep in mind in order to minimize the risk of such an escalation. First of all, yield to the blue lights in as quick and safe a manner as possible. Turn off your engine. Roll the window all the way down. Put your hands on the steering wheel. Be respectful when talking to the officer, even if you are annoyed, running late for an important meeting, and/or believe you did nothing wrong. During this time, it is important to understand that the police officer may be concerned that you may pose a danger to him or her (routine traffic stops can be especially dangerous for police) so an officer may be especially “on guard” during such situations. Be prepared to show the officer your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance.
Once these basic formalities have been dealt with, the officer may ask you to step out of the car. A request may also be made to search your vehicle, but it is important to be aware of your rights during a police stop. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures" of your person and property by law enforcement, making it unwise to consent to a search of your vehicle. There may be property belonging to someone else inside your vehicle (such as prescription drugs or marijuana) or items you have forgotten you left in your car. If you have consented to a search, the fact that this evidence was found in your automobile can be used against you in court. Even if you do not consent to a search, there are certain circumstances under which an officer may still conduct a lawful search. This includes situations in which an officer has probable cause to suspect there is incriminating evidence in the car, the officer reasonably believes the search is necessary for his or her own safety, or the officer has placed you under arrest.
These rights are a vital part of our democracy. If you believe that an officer has violated your rights during a police stop in Riverside or San Bernardino, drug crime lawyer Gregory H. Comings is here to defend you. Sometimes, a procedural violation by the police may be used as leverage, or the court may suppress illegally obtained evidence under the exclusionary rule. If you believe that unlawful conduct during a traffic stop has led to criminal charges against you, call us at 951-686-3457 or contact us online. We handle both state and federal drug crime cases.