Ever been pulled over for a traffic stop? If you haven't been, you're lucky; if you have been, you may have been wondering, "Can they do that?" or "Do I have to do what they say?" Regardless of whether you have or have not been pulled over in the past, there's a good chance you will be at some point in your life.
9 Important Things to Remember During A Traffic Stop
- When Can a Police Officer Pull You Over? An officer can pull you over if they have “reasonable suspicion.” For example, if you are speeding, swerving, or driving recklessly. An officer cannot pull you over just because you “flipped them off” or had a bumper sticker that said, “Police Are The Worst.” It is generally advisable to avoid such gestures, but such actions are rights protected by the First Amendment.
- You Have the Right to Record a Traffic Stop. Anyone may document a traffic stop via video or voice recording. If an officer asks you to stop recording, you must set down the recording device, but you are not required to stop recording altogether. Additionally, you are not allowed to hinder the officer's investigation in order to record (e.g. do not shove the camera or recording device into an officer's face). Remember that recording a traffic stop may agitate an officer, which could then make the stop more difficult for you.
- If the Police Officer Is Not in Uniform, they are required to show their credentials when asked. For your personal safety, you should always ask a plain-clothed officer for their credentials (i.e. name and badge number). Regardless of whether the officer is in uniform, you may still ask for their credentials.
- You Are Required to Show Your Identification, Registration, and Proof of Insurance. Oklahoma enforces the “Stop and Identify” requirement, meaning an Oklahoma citizen, when operating a vehicle, is legally required to present their driver's license, vehicle registration, and proof of car insurance when/if requested by an officer conducting a traffic stop.
- Duration of Traffic Stop. There are no laws setting an exact length of time for traffic stops, but the duration of a traffic stop must be “reasonable.” The police officer may only stop you for however long it takes to finish the purpose of the traffic stop (e.g. however long it should reasonable take to issue a speeding ticket/warning). If you feel like the stop has lasted too long, you can ask the police office if you're being detained. If the officer tells you “no,” you may ask if you are free to leave.
- You Have the Right to Remain Silent. There is no legal requirement to answer questions about your destination, place of work, or the purpose of your travel. It is generally advisable to restrict your answers to “yes” or “no.” Remember that hostile answers may agitate an officer. And aggressive answers may lead an officer to believe you are an imminent threat to officer safety, which may legally permit an officer to (1) force you to exit the vehicle, (2) pat down your outer clothing in search for weapons, (3) and may even legally permit an officer to search your glove compartment for weapons.
- If a Police Officer Asks You to Get Out of Your Vehicle. You are not required to exit your vehicle, or get into the officer's vehicle. If an officer asks you to exit your vehicle, you should ask if you are being detained. If the officer replies “no,” you can tell the officer you would prefer to stay inside your vehicle.
- You have the Right Not to Consent to a Search of your Vehicle. If a police officer asks for your consent to search the vehicle, you have a choice of whether to give consent (a.k.a. you're allowed to say no). If you refuse consent, an officer is not allowed to shine their flashlight into your car or enter your vehicle. Additionally, a police officer cannot attempt to coerce/deceive you into consenting to a search. Coercion may look like an officer “telling” you they are going to search your vehicle, making you feel like you don't have the option of saying “no.” If this situation occurs, tell the officer you have not consented and will not consent. Deception may look like an officer threatening to arrest you if you do not consent, or threatening to force you to wait until a drug-sniffing dog arrives at the traffic stop. If this situation occurs, repeat that you do not consent. The duration of the traffic stop cannot last longer than the purpose of the stop (e.g. to issue a warning or ticket). Therefore, a police officer cannot force you to wait any longer than it would reasonably take to issue a citation. If you refuse consent, an officer can only search your vehicle if they (1) have or get a valid warrant, (2) are arresting you, (3) if they have “probable cause” to search your vehicle (i.e. if an officer smells burning marijuana or alcohol in your car. Or if the officer pulled you over under suspicion you/your car are connected to a crime).
- You May Refuse a Breathalyzer Test, but Not Without Consequence. In Oklahoma, anyone who gets a driver's license gives their implied consent to provide a breathalyzer sample if an officer suspects them of driving under the influence of alcohol. While you may refuse to provide the sample, by doing so, you'll subject yourself to administrative penalties through the Department of Public Safety, which will likely impact your driver's license.
If you have any questions about a prior stop or arrest, contact our office immediately to discuss your case.