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What rights do you have during a traffic stop?

Broadly speaking, our criminal defense law firm recommends cooperating with police during a traffic stop. However, cooperation does not mean waiving one’s rights. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable, warrantless searches and seizures. Accordingly, a driver does not have to consent to his or her vehicle being searched, absent other circumstances.

If the traffic stop was on suspicion of drunk driving, an officer’s procedures generally being with simple questions, such as the driver’s name and travel destination. If the officer perceives tell-tale signs of intoxication, such as bloodshot eyes, breath smelling of alcohol, and/or slurred speech, he or she may request the driver to exit the vehicle and perform a field sobriety test.

Several components may comprise a field sobriety test, such as touching one’s finger to one’s nose, walking in a straight line, or perhaps counting to ten while performing another coordination exercise. If an officer has probable cause to believe that the crime of drunk driving is being committed, he or she may place the driver under arrest.

At that moment, a separate set of legal procedures apply to the arrest. Whereas a police officer does not have to remind a driver of the right to politely withhold consent to a pre-arrest, warrantless search of the driver's vehicle; a U.S. Supreme Court case mandates that an arrestee be reminded of certain constitutional rights. Generally referred to as the Miranda warning, the reminders summarize the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and to have an attorney present before responding to police questioning.

As this discussion suggests, criminal procedures are an important inquiry when preparing a legal defense to criminal charges. Our Illinois law firm has the experience to thoroughly review the actions of the police during a traffic stop, looking for procedural violations. If errors are found, a pretrial motion might result in the exclusion of certain evidence or certain witnesses barred from testifying. We describe our approach to criminal defense in greater detail on our website.

Source: FindLaw, “Civil Rights During a Traffic Stop: 5 Reminders,” copyright 2016, Thomson Reuters

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