What are My Rights During a Traffic Stop?

People often ask, “what are my rights if I get stopped by the police?”

Provide Driver License, Car Registration, Proof of Insurance:

First of all, the officer will likely ask to see your car registration, your driver license and proof of insurance. By law, you are obligated to provide those items to the officer.

But other than that, you don’t have any obligations to answer the officer’s questions or to do anything else for that matter.

Remain Silent: The fifth amendment of the United States Constitution says that you have the right to remain silent; no one can force you to answer questions or say anything that would incriminate yourself.

An officer may ask you questions like: have you drank any alcoholic beverage? Have you taken any medications? Have you smoked any marijuana?  It is your right to respond by saying: “I choose not to answer any of your questions.”

Decline Field Sobriety Tests: An officer may ask you to look at his finger and follow it with your eyes only.  Again, you have no obligation to do that.

An officer may ask you to get out of your car and perform field sobriety tests.  As stated above, you have no obligation to do any of that.   Simply say: “I elect not to participate in your tests.”

Decline Preliminary Alcohol Breath Test (PAS): An officer may ask you to blow into a preliminary alcohol screen breath test (PAS).  Again, you have no obligation to do so.

Now, if you are under the age of 21 and an officer suspects that you have been drinking alcohol, then you must blow into the preliminary alcohol screen breath test (PAS).  If you refuse the DMV may take your license for a minimum of 1 year.

Also, if you are currently on probation for a prior DUI conviction, the law requires that you blow into the preliminary alcohol screen breath test (PAS) to ensure that you do not have any measurable amount of alcohol in your system while driving.  If you refuse the DMV can suspend your driver license for 1 year or longer.

Don’t Help the Officer Build a Case Against You: You are better off not doing any breath testing. You’re better off not doing any field sobriety tests.  If you do, you are voluntarily providing the officer with evidence to use against you later.

If Arrested, you must take a Chemical Test: If the officer decides to arrest you for DUI, California implied consent law (VC23612) requires that you submit to a chemical test, breath or blood – your choice in most cases. If you refuse, the DMV will likely take your driver license for 1 year minimum.

Also if you refuse, the officer will likely get a search warrant from a judge to take your blood.

Choose a Blood Test.

If you choose a blood test, the arresting officer will not know the results of the blood test for possibly weeks. The arrest report will more than likely have been written prior to the blood test results being available. The arresting officer’s report will likely be more objective and honest because the officer wrote it without knowing the level of your blood alcohol concentration.

In addition, if you choose a blood test, an expert DUI defense attorney will have the opportunity to review the documentation relating to the drawing of the blood sample, the transportation and storage of the blood sample before it was analyzed, and the actual analysis of the blood sample, to determine if any problems exist that could affect the accuracy and reliability of the blood test results. There are many factors that can affect the accuracy and reliability of the blood test results.

It is important that you take only one test! Some officers will talk the arrested person into taking a breath and a blood test. That’s like having two smoking guns. Take one test only and take a blood test. Blow into nothing.

Note: If you recently smoked or ingested marijuana or some other drug, you may want to consider taking a breath test instead of a blood test, as crime labs often run drug screens on blood samples. 

Know your Rights:

If you drive in Southern California, know your rights, so that you can use them when you need to. If you are stopped by the police:

  • Keep your hands in plain view on top of the steering wheel. Wait until you are asked to produce your license, registration, and proof of insurance.
  • As soon as it seems appropriate, ask the officer if you are free to go.
  • If you are not free to go, politely ask, “For what reason are you detaining me?”
  • Exercise your right to remain silent and politely say, I choose to exercise my right to remain silent.” You cannot be arrested or detained for exercising your right to remain silent.
  • Do not consent to a search. The police may conduct a search anyway, but it is important to state clearly, “I do not consent to a search.”
  • If you are receiving a ticket, cooperate. Give the officer your name and date of birth and sign the ticket. Your failure to cooperate regarding a ticket could get you arrested.
  • Do not express disrespect or “attitude.”
  • Do not try to run. Do not physically resist a “pat-down” or body search. Simply say “I do not consent to a search,” but otherwise be cooperative.
  • Do not tell lies to the police. Instead, simply and politely exercise your right to remain silent.
  • Be aware that police officers are legally allowed to lie to and to attempt to intimidate you.
  • If you are arrested, ask the officer if you can park your car safely or have a friend drive it away. Otherwise, you will pay impound and towing fees. 

If you’ve been arrested for a DUI, and you’re not sure what to do next, give me a call so that we can examine your situation, and figure out what’s the best way to defend the case.