What are my rights when stopped by the police?

Many prosecutions for drug charges begin with a traffic stop. What happens during this stressful experience can have a major impact on a person's ability to effectively defend themselves against drug charges later on.

Stop the vehicle as quickly as possible after being confronted by police. Park it in a safe place and turn off the ignition. It is also important to turn on the car's internal light, partially open the window and place hands on the steering wheel.

Anything said may be used against a person in a trial and provide an excuse for an arrest. A motorist and any passengers do not have to answer questions. But when stopped, drivers must show their license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance if requested.

Passengers may ask if they may leave. Even if the police deny this request, passengers still have the right to remain silent. A person does not have to consent to a search of their vehicle or themselves. Saying that they do not consent to the search, even if rejected by police, helps protect rights.

Police, however, may search a car without a warrant and without the driver's consent if they believe there is evidence of a crime in the vehicle. If police say they have a warrant, ask to see it.

Police may also ask occupants to step outside the vehicle and separate passengers from the driver for questioning. Again, nobody must answer questions.

Drivers should sign any ticket given by the police officer or face arrest. A motorist suspected of drunk driving may have their license suspended for refusing a breath, blood or urine test.

Do not resist, argue, interfere with a police officer or run away. A lawyer can later deal with any police misconduct. If arrested, do not resist. Do not tell police anything except name, age and address. Resist the temptation to give explanations or excuses for any actions.

An attorney should be contacted as soon as possible. They can help assure that rights are protected.

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