What Are Your Rights When the Police Stop You?

If you are charged with a crime in or near the Las Vegas area on the basis of a traffic stop or a search of your vehicle, you will need the advice and representation that a Las Vegas criminal defense attorney provides, and you will need to contact that attorney immediately.

It happens to almost everyone who drives. A police officer stops you in traffic and begins asking you questions. What are your rights when this happens? What if the officer asks to search your vehicle? Can your vehicle be searched without your consent?

Continue reading this brief discussion of police searches and your rights for the answers to these questions, but if your car was searched illegally or if you were charged with a crime after being stopped by the police, you’ll also need to contact a Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer at once.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

In most cases, the police need a search warrant in order to search your home, workplace, or vehicle, but in traffic, the police need “reasonable suspicion” to stop you, and they need to have “probable cause” in order to conduct a search of your vehicle.

Reasonable suspicion is sufficient for police officers to make a traffic stop, but probable cause is required for a search or an arrest. Probable cause is an officer’s strong conviction, based on circumstances and facts, that a crime has been, is being, or will be committed.

What Constitutes Probable Cause?

A DUI stop is an illustrative example. If a police officer reasonably suspects that you are driving under the influence, reasonable suspicion allows the officer to conduct a breathalyzer or field sobriety test, but probable cause is established only if the test results indicate intoxication.

The probable cause requirement means that police officers must have evidence or facts that cause them to believe that a motorist is involved in some type of crime. For example, smelling or seeing illegal drugs, illegal guns, or stolen items would give police officers probable cause.

A mere suspicion, feeling, or hunch does not legally constitute probable cause. And minor violations – an expired vehicle registration or a broken headlight, for instance – do not give the police probable cause to search a vehicle.

How Should Nevada Drivers Respond to Traffic Stops?

It is important to know how police officers establish probable cause, because the police can exploit loopholes and exceptions to the law in order to search your vehicle for evidence of criminal activity. Don’t let an officer bully you or trick you into not exercising your rights.

If an officer stops you in traffic, pull off the street safely, turn off the ignition (and any sound system you may have), and rest your hands on the steering wheel. For their protection, the police need to see your hands, so don’t reach for your license or registration until you’re asked.

Be polite. Never be loud, express an “attitude,” or use inappropriate language. Do not be hostile or provocative in any way. If you are getting a traffic ticket, take it without complaining.

Were You Wrongly Stopped or Ticketed?

If you are convinced that the police were wrong when they stopped you or ticketed you, you will be allowed to make that argument in court, but do not dispute with the officer who stops and tickets you.

You have the right to remain silent at a traffic stop. If the officer asks you questions, politely respond with something like, “I would prefer to exercise my right to remain silent unless my attorney is present,” and then say nothing more. What you do not say cannot hurt you.

You also shouldn’t say something like “I know my rights.” A police officer may perceive such a declaration as a provocation or challenge. Being polite and staying quiet is the best way to handle any traffic stop.

What if Officers Ask to Search Your Vehicle?

At traffic stops, police officers may order a driver and passengers to vacate the vehicle. Should this happen, comply with the order. If the police have probable cause for detaining you, you may be frisked for weapons if the police think that you are armed.

Do not physically resist a police officer. Even touching a police officer could lead to a charge of assaulting a law enforcement officer, which is a felony. Politely refuse to give your consent if the officer asks, “May I search your car?”

You can say, “I’m sorry, Officer, but I will not consent to a search of my vehicle.” Some police officers may try to intimidate you, for example, by asking, “Do you have something to hide?” Do not be intimidated. Simply repeat that you are not consenting to the search.

The police may search your vehicle if they have reasonable cause, with or without your verbal consent. Do not try on your own, at a traffic stop, to determine if an officer has reasonable cause for a search, and do not argue with or resist the officer.

What Are Your Rights Regarding Vehicle Searches?

Your refusal to agree to a search of your vehicle does not constitute an admission or evidence of your guilt.

If a search is conducted without your consent, and contraband items or evidence of criminal activity is found, your Las Vegas criminal defense attorney will file a motion to suppress that evidence so that it cannot be used against you.

If a Nevada judge determines the search violated your Fourth Amendment rights, the motion to suppress will be granted, and unless the state has additional evidence, the charge against you will probably be dismissed.

What Else Should You Know About Traffic Stops and Searches?

After the officer returns your license, registration, and proof of insurance, unless that officer tells you that you are being arrested or detained, you can ask if you are free to go. If you are told that you may go, leave the vicinity immediately.

You can’t count on the police to read your rights. If you’re being detained, tell the officer, “I am exercising my right to remain silent, and I want to consult my attorney.”

When you understand how the police handle traffic stops, you’ll have a much better chance of driving away from a stop without an arrest or other legal trouble. If you are placed under arrest at a traffic stop in Nevada and charged with a criminal offense, contact a Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer as quickly as possible.