The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

What Are Your Rights When Pulled Over by Police?

You know the drill: flashing lights, whooping siren, amplified sound. It's not a new techno dance party; you're being pulled over by the police.

This is certainly not anyone's daydream, but it also shouldn't be your worst nightmare. After all, it happens; Jay-Z even rapped about it. Whether you're speeding, swerving, or just plain unlucky, there's a good chance you'll get pulled over at least once in your lifetime.

So don't lose your cool. When LAPD's finest are telling you to pull over the vehicle, remember that while they may seem tough, you still have rights.

When police pull you over, the key thing to remember is to be polite. Regardless of how you feel about cops, playing nice will help the process go smoothly.

The first thing the officer should do after you're pulled over is to tell you why you were stopped.

Depending on the circumstances you may already know but even if you have a suspicion, make sure they spell it out for you. You don't want to unintentionally incriminate yourself.

Once you've established why you were stopped, the officer will likely ask for your license and registration. Hand it over because legally the officer has a right to see it. He'll probably take it to his car to run a check on it.

But what if the officer asks to search the car? That's where California law gives you the opportunity to make a choice.

To search your car, the officer either needs permission or she must have proable cause that there is evidence of a crime in your car. Unlike what Jay-Z says, a warrant isn't necessary if there is probable cause.

Saying no to officers does not give rise to probable cause for a search. So telling the officer you won't consent shouldn't immediately cause them to search the car.

But in the real world sometimes things get a little. If your "no" spurs the officer to immediately search the car, just make a mental note of it so you can tell your lawyer later. Strenuously objecting or getting into a fight won't help very much.

Hopefully the stop ends with a warning or at worst a ticket, but if at the end of the interaction you're in handcuffs, then other rights apply. That's a good time to ask for an attorney.

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