You may know the feeling: you’re driving along and then you see the dreaded red and blue lights in your rearview mirror. A local police officer or the Indiana State Police is pulling you over. You may feel dread, nerves, or confusion, especially if you can’t understand why you were stopped. Because drivers feel cornered, too often they allow law enforcement personnel to abuse their authority. Familiarizing yourself with what police are allowed to do – and what they aren’t – at a traffic stop will help you feel more confident the next time you’re stopped. Furthermore, if you believe you have been the victim of an improper police stop, you may have a strong defense against criminal charges in your case.
The law states that police have the authority to pull drivers over to maintain public safety and enforce the law. This means they can perform an initial stop to enforce traffic laws, such as speeding limits, stopping requirements, and proper turn signal use. This counts as one stop, and once the officer has completed his or her purpose for the stop, he or she can’t continue to detain you unless:
- The officer has a reason to conduct a second, independent stop, and
- This second stop is motivated by the officer’s reasonable suspicion that you have engaged in additional criminal activity
Learn Why You Were Pulled Over
Even something as routine as a simple traffic stop can result in serious criminal charges if you don’t know how to assert your important legal rights. As soon as you are pulled over, the police officer should identify the reason for the stop. If the officer fails to do so, you have the right to inquire as to the purpose for the stop – and, of course, be respectful and polite when you ask.
During the course of the traffic stop, the police officer may ask additional questions of you, such as:
- “So where are you heading?”
- “Do you have any drugs in the car?”
- “Have you been drinking?”
- “Where are you coming from?”
These questions are not illegal and are not a violation of your constitutional rights. Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has held that asking questions of this type will not impact your Fourth Amendment privileges. You do have a right to refuse to answer any questioning from the police, including these questions, and refusing to answer them may change the dynamic of the traffic stop. The police may not extend a stop for any longer than is necessary to complete the original reason for the stop unless there is independent probable cause of criminal activity. Independent probable cause of criminal activity can include the odor of alcohol coming from you or your vehicle; the odor of burnt or raw marijuana; or visible drugs, paraphernalia, or weapons in your vehicle. In the event that the police find independent probable cause (or at least believe that they have it), they may ask you for permission to search your vehicle. DO NOT CONSENT TO A SEARCH OF YOUR VEHICLE! It’s very possible that they may be able to claim an exception to the general requirement to get a search warrant and search your vehicle without your consent, anyway, but agreeing to a search of your car will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to suppress any evidence found in your car.
Know Your Rights: Contact an Indiana Criminal Defense Lawyer
Whether or not a defendant has been subjected to an illegal search is a fact-sensitive situation. If you were stopped in a vehicle that was subsequently searched, and you have been charged with a crime as the result of that search, you may have a strong defense in your case. Contact an experienced Indiana criminal defense lawyer to find out whether your rights have been violated and to ensure that you have the best possible defense to any charges arising from a traffic stop.
The laws governing legal advertising in the state of Indiana require the following statement in any publication of this kind: “THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT.” This website is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.