We’ve all been there: that terrible moment when we see the police lights flashing in our rear-view mirror. Our heart starts racing and we pray the lights are for someone other than us. Reality sinks in, and we pull over. It’s a scary and intimidating moment for every driver. So what are your rights if you get pulled over?
Usually when we get pulled over it’s because we’ve committed a moving violation like speeding or running a red light, or we have defective equipment like a broken head-light or a burned out brake-light bulb. These stops are temporary detainments for a reasonable period of time and are perfectly legal.
Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, we are all protected from “unreasonable searches and seizures” of our persons and property. You might think of your car as a mobile piece of your personal property, so you are entitled to a certain expectation of privacy in your car. But unlike being in your house, when you’re driving a car, this expectation of privacy is slightly diminished. And so are your legal rights.
During one of these routine traffic stops, a police officer can ascertain your basic identifying information to confirm who you are, that the vehicle is registered, that you have insurance, and that you are licensed to drive. You do not have to answer any additional questions – but you should be polite in declining to do so.
And never give the officer false information – it will just make things worse! Under Virginia Code § 19.2-82.1, you can go to jail for up 12 months and be fined up to $2,500.00 for falsely identifying yourself to a police officer.
If the officer asks to search your car, you do not have to consent. Even if the question is worded in a way that makes you feel like you have no choice, you do. Just tell the officer, respectfully, that you do not consent to a search of your vehicle.
There are some circumstances where an officer may have probable cause to search your vehicle without your consent, such as where there are drugs in plain view. Be careful driving and check the equipment on your car before you leave!