What Are My Rights During a Traffic Stop in Pennsylvania?
In uncomfortable or scary situations, many of us tend to act reflexively, relying on mere instinct to guide our actions and steer us to safety and out of harm’s way. When encountering situations involving police officers or other law enforcement personnel, we tend to react quickly and thoughtlessly, giving way to fear or nerves, often to our own detriment, such as in encounters with police during a routine traffic stop. Understanding some basic principles of law and civil rights can help you remain calm during such situations and avoid unfair and undue criminal consequences or, worse yet, dangerous and violent escalations.
With the aid of the media and popular culture, most of us are familiar with the Miranda rights colloquy made by police officers when effecting an arrest of a suspect. While the reading of the Miranda rights applies technically to situations in which suspects are being interrogated while in police custody, it is important to understand that, he or she retains the right to remain silent prior to custodial interrogation. Apart from providing some basic identification information, including your license, registration, and proof of insurance, you are not required to give any other information. Exercising this right to remain silent should be done in a calm and polite manner but, also by stating it loudly and clearly, to avoid any misunderstanding or confusion, or escalation of the encounter. You need not answer such preliminary questions about where you were going or traveling from or what you were doing, for instance. You are within your rights to remain silent when asked such questions.
If you are asked to exit your vehicle, you may politely decline, paying due regard to the distinction between a simple request and a lawful order. This means that if you are told or ordered to exit your vehicle, using language such as, “I need you to step out of the vehicle” or “Please, step out of the vehicle,” you must do so to avoid arrest for disobeying a lawful order. Law enforcement officers are permitted to issue such an order to preserve their own safety, to look for signs of a driver’s intoxication, or to conduct a proper investigation.
Regarding a search of your vehicle, many of us instinctively respond to a request for consent to search with an unwarranted fear of prosecution or due to an immediate knee-jerk reaction. It is critical to understand that, under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you are protected from unreasonable search and seizure, which requires that police officers obtain a warrant from the court to conduct a search, or, alternatively, have “probable cause” to search your vehicle. In short “probable cause” means a reason to suspect that a search would lead to finding evidence of criminal activity that has taken place, or is about to take place.
If you were arrested and charged with a traffic crime, you should speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Contact the criminal defense lawyers at Tanner Law Offices. Our team of skilled professionals is prepared to defend you through this challenging time and ensure your rights are fully protected. Please contact our office at 717-731-8114 to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.