What Are My Rights When I’m Pulled Over in California?

Being pulled over by a police officer can be extremely stressful. Current news events have caused many people to fear traffic stops. A traffic stop could lead to an arrest, so it is important that you know your legal rights before a police officer stops you.

Stop Your Vehicle as Quickly as Possible

Pull over to a safe location, put your vehicle in park, and turn the engine off. Open the window part of the way and turn on an interior light. These actions let the officer know you are willing to cooperate. 

When you are pulled over, make sure you keep your hands on the steering wheel. Do not make any sudden moves. If you need to reach for your driver’s license and registration, make sure to ask the officer.

Any sudden moves may be interpreted as a threat. It could also give the officer probable cause to search your or your vehicle. 

The officer should have probable cause to pull you over. Politely ask why the officer pulled you over and make a mental note of his response. Do not argue or become defensive if the officer refuses to tell you. Your lawyer can argue probable cause in front of a judge.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

At a traffic stop, you have the right to remain silent. You must provide identification and give your name and address to the police officer. However, you are not required to answer any questions without an attorney present.

Whether you choose to exercise your right depends on the situation. It can be a difficult decision because you do not want to make matters worse. If you choose to speak with the officer, you shouldn’t answer any questions that could incriminate you. 

For example, if you are receiving a traffic ticket, you might not want to exercise your right to remain silent. Provide the information requested, sign the ticket, and fight the matter in court.

You cannot be arrested for exercising your right to remain silent.

If the police officer asks to search your vehicle, politely and respectfully decline. Clearly state that you do not consent to a search of your person or your vehicle. 

The police officers may conduct a search anyway. Do not resist or object again. Police officers can perform a pat-down to ensure you do not have any weapons on your person. 

If the police officers performed an illegal search, your lawyer can file a petition to suppress (throw out) any evidence obtained during the illegal search.

Police Officers May Lie to You

You should not lie to a police officer. Politely state you are exercising your right to remain silent instead of telling a lie.

However, be aware that police officers can lie to you. Therefore, it is generally in your best interest to remain silent after asking for a lawyer upon your arrest.

You Have the Right to Fight a Traffic Ticket

Most people pay the fine and go on with their lives after receiving a traffic ticket. However, you have the right to fight your traffic ticket. You must follow the instructions for requesting a hearing before the deadline on the ticket. 

If the traffic ticket is related to a car accident, you may want to discuss the ticket with a lawyer before paying the ticket. You could be admitting fault for the car crash by paying the traffic ticket instead of fighting it.

You Do Not Have to Admit Fault for a Car Accident 

If police officers question you about a car accident, you are not required to admit fault even if you know that you caused the accident. You only need to tell the officers the facts of the accident. Do not lie, but do not offer any information that is not requested.

Do not blame anyone for the accident. Allow the officer to ask questions. Whenever possible, give “yes” or “no” answers without further explanation. 

If another driver does admit fault for the crash, make sure you tell your car accident lawyer. 

Try to Remain Calm When a Police Officer Stops You

Whenever you are pulled over, try to remain calm. Be polite and cooperate as much as you can without incriminating yourself. You do not want to escalate the situation, but you also want to protect your legal rights.

If you are in doubt, respectfully invoke your right to remain silent and continue to remain silent until you can speak with a lawyer.