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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Traffic Stops and Your Rights

Many people are confused about their rights when they are stopped while driving on the road by a police officer. In fact, a large percentage of individuals stopped for routine traffic violations incorrectly believe that they are required to perform whatever tasks or tests are requested by the police. If you are stopped for any sort of traffic violation, with a few exceptions, you have the right to politely decline almost any request made by the police officer.

The 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution protects against “compulsory self-incrimination” (meaning that no person can be required to give evidence against them self). This protection extends to both statements and various field sobriety tests, such as walk the line, touch your nose, etc. In the context of routine traffic stops, this means that you have the right to refuse an officer’s request for you to exit the vehicle. You also have the right to refuse to perform field sobriety tests. You have the right to refuse consent to a search of your vehicle. You may choose to exit your vehicle and perform these tests, but that is your choice. In many circumstances, the police officer cannot legally order you out of your car to perform sobriety tests if you are stopped for a routine traffic violation.

Under most circumstances, a motorist should not make any statement or have a discussion with the police officer. Do not try to convince the officer of how little you had to drink (“only 2 drinks officer!”). Citizens are under the mistaken belief that the policeman must read you Miranda Rights before asking basic questions about your drinking and driving behavior. Whatever you say and do will probably be used against you in court.

In many cases, even if you remain polite and courteous with the police officer, the officer will aggressively attempt to convince you to perform field sobriety tests, including a field blow test. Again the 5th Amendment affords you the right to refuse to perform tests. However, after you are legally arrested and transported back to the police station, there are statutory consequences for failing to take a breath test. Refusal to take a breath or blood test after being legally arrested is a violation of Virginia’s implied consent law and may subject you to the loss of your privilege to drive, as well as other consequences.

If you do refuse to cooperate with a police officer, you may be threatened with arrest and you may anger the police officer. Therefore, you should understand the consequences of being uncooperative. If the police officer does arrest you and charges you with a criminal offense (such as DWI or Possession of Marijuana), you should seek out a knowledgeable and competent criminal defense attorney. Regardless of whether you complied with the officer’s requests or exercised your rights and refused, you should have a lawyer to ensure that your rights are properly protected in court.