Know Your Legal Rights: What To Do in a Traffic Stop


Traffic stops happen all the time along the California highway, usually conducted by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). You have individual rights even in situations such as these. It’s important to know your rights in order to ensure that they remain protected through all the steps of a traffic stop. Below, we’ve compiled a list of best practices that you can use to stay protected during a stop, and what your rights are as outlined by the motor laws of California.


Best practices for your next stop

Just because you receive a stop notice does not mean that there is necessarily a case against you, or that you did anything wrong. For example, police officers may choose to pull you over to let you know that a taillight has gone out or if there’s some other type of issue with your vehicle. Regardless of the reason, traffic stops do happen — and this list will help you to be prepared for your next.


1. Confirm why you were pulled over

While this step seems simple, it shouldn’t be overlooked. Doing this reinforces the ability to protect yourself and gain insight about why you were pulled over in the first place. It is also a non-threatening question that is perfectly rational to ask, and can help you to gauge the overall tone of the traffic stop.


It also shows that you are actively participating in the situation and are willing to reasonably comply with what is needed from you. If you need to seek legal action after this stop, this verbiage and subsequent answer can help your attorney to gain a better understanding of what happened and how they can assist.


2. Have your license and registration ready

The officer coming to your vehicle will have no idea who he is dealing with. It’s ideal to pull over wherever possible and get your paperwork ready ahead of time, that way they have no reason to be concerned about someone reaching into a glovebox or other compartment. They’ll likely take the documents back to the squad car and identify you to verify the vehicle ownership information.


3. Establish your boundaries early on

If they ask you to leave the vehicle, attempt to get the reasoning behind the request, as we mentioned above. They may conduct a sobriety test or ask you additional questions depending on the nature of the stop. Comply with as many requests as you can to the extent that you feel comfortable with, and establish your lack of consent to requests that you don’t feel comfortable with, such as a physical search.


4. Maintain respect to help create an environment for a smooth stop

Police officers have dealt with a lot of complex and grueling situations. You can avoid misunderstandings or tension by maintaining an environment of respect and compliance as much as possible. This includes:


● Complying as much as possible

● Being vocal and answering questions clearly and with detail

● Providing paperwork requested in a timely manner


Do not assume defensive behaviors, especially if you have no reason to do so. This can complicate the nature of your stop. Examples of these include:


● Refusing to provide information

● Making incendiary comments

● Disrespecting personal space

● Becoming physically or verbally aggressive


Exploring the argument for probable cause in traffic stops

California Highway Patrol is essentially given wide ranges of authority with how, why, and when they conduct traffic stops. However, there are certain provisions allowed to citizens via the Fourth Amendment that could protect you from unlawful search and seizure in the case of a traffic stop. For many traffic stops, probable cause is the reason that is given in many circumstances. It tends to be an umbrella term, but it is important to explore what is legally allowed under that argument and reasoning.


Probable cause requires more justification than many believe, and is a provision that police officers may invoke to initiate a traffic stop if it is believed that you committed a crime. There are several things that could give them suspicion that would lead to a probable cause stop, such as situational circumstances, erratic or irresponsible behavior and driving patterns (i.e. as in the case of someone under the influence,) or if your information is believed to be a match or was assumed to be in correlation with a crime.


They may not legally stop you based off of suspicion alone, if there are no other present details or circumstantial factors that would point toward other provisions under the guise of reasonable cause. To do so may be a violation of your rights. In this case, we would recommend meeting with a Constitutional attorney as soon as possible to determine your next right steps.


Traffic stop rights violation? Arete Law is here to help

Arete Law specializes in assisting others in managing their Constitutional and criminal law cases. We are happy to assist you and partner with you through every step of the process, bringing your case to full resolution. If you’re concerned that your rights may have been violated as a result of an unconstitutional or illegal traffic stop, we would love to speak and see how we can help.


Call today at 619-693-6474 to book your free consultation.

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