Seeing flashing lights in your rearview mirror can be terrifying, especially when it is a police officer signaling for you to pull over. Given the increasing risk and horror stories of situations gone array, it is crucial to know your rights and what you should do if you get pulled over. Making the wrong move or saying the wrong thing can quickly escalate into an arrest or worse. Here, Rahul Balaram of Santa Rosa-based Balaram Law Office discusses your rights when you are pulled over and describes how to protect yourself.
Police need to have a reason to pull you over.
It is a common misconception that police can pull you over randomly without reason. However, police must have probable cause–such as driving over the speed limit, driving with a broken taillight, or failing to stop at a stop sign. If you are stopped, you have the right to ask the officer why they are pulling you over.
You don’t have to stop immediately.
In the event you are driving in an area that is unsafe to pull over or not well lit, you should continue until you find a spot to stop safely. While you don’t want to aggravate an officer by carrying on for several miles, finding a place away from traffic benefits all parties involved. Making sure there is enough light and in a public area benefits you as well, since all activity can be seen and heard.
Remain in your vehicle until asked otherwise.
It is legal to remain in your vehicle while speaking with a police officer. While they may ask you to step out of the car, stepping out before you are asked can be interpreted as aggression and may not be taken lightly by a cop. Most will only ask you to get out of your car to ensure you don’t have any concealed weapons.
Police can only search your vehicle with a warrant (unless stated below).
Generally speaking, police must have a valid warrant to search your vehicle. Without one, these are a few reasons they can still conduct a search:
- If you give them permission, enforcement has the right to conduct a search
- If anything of concern is in “plain view”, i.e. if illegal substances are in your front seat then an officer has the right to search your car
- If an officer arrests you based on probable cause, they can then search your vehicle as a “search incident to arrest”
- If an officer has reason to suspect a crime, they can search your vehicle. While suspicious circumstances on their own–such as a black eye, bloodstains, or trash bags lying around–don’t determine illegal activity, each activity in combination can signal a potential crime that warrants a search.
You have the right to remain silent.
If an officer asks you details as to where you are coming from, where you are going, or any questions you do not wish to answer, both you and your passengers have the right to remain silent.
About Rahul Balaram
Rahul Balaram has led an impressive career as a defense attorney. Before opening his own firm, Mr. Balaram worked as a Deputy Public Defender, representing indigent citizens accused of criminal conduct.
Rahul has recently opened the Balaram Law Office in Santa Rosa. His excellent communication with his clients relieves their anxiety about the court system and lessens their confusion and frustration about court cases they may be facing. He is available for consultation by phone and text 24/7. He ensures that his clients are represented with dignity, compassion, and competence to the court and juries.