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Motorist Alert

This pamphlet is being distributed by the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project for the benefit of motorists who may at some point be pulled over by law enforcement. The so-called War on Drugs has produced general policies employing the strategy of random pullovers in their efforts to curtail the traffic of drugs on the highways.

The vast majority of those pulled over are not transporting drugs, but this has not prevented intrusive searches of vehicles or other violations of basic rights of innocent persons. Because a pullover at some point in your life is almost inevitable, it is very important to know your rights and responsibilities.

To protect your privacy and other rights, it is important that you educate yourself as to the law and your rights. An officer is not obliged to inform your of your rights in all situations, and may not even be fully aware of them.

This pamphlet is but a summary of the issues you must be aware of while driving a vehicle on any public highway. CLMP has many more detailed resources and can refer you to more if you have specific questions. Please bear in mind that the law is in constant change, and portions of this pamphlet may be out of date by the time you are reading it. We recommend that you continue to educate yourself on a regular basis.

Do not use this brochure as a substitute for legal advice from an attorney.


Your conduct with police:

*What you say to the police is always important. What you say can be used against you, and it can give the police an excuse to arrest you, especially if you "bad mouth" the officer.

*You do not have to answer a police officer's questions,but you must show your drivers license and proof of insurance when stopped in a car. In other situations, you cannot legally be arrested for refusing to identify yourself to a police officer.

*It is not a crime to refuse to answer questions,although refusing to answer can make the police suspicious about you.

*Be polite and calmly assert your rights. Never make an attempt to resist physically. If you need to reach for your ID or registration, it is best to move slowly, and tell the officer what you are doing, as fast movements can trigger a violent response from an officer who may think you are trying to get a weapon. If police behavior was improper, contest it later in a complaint, or in court, or both. Do not "bad mouth" the officer or run away, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable.




If You Are Stopped:

*Present license, registration, proof of insurance.

*Know your rights.Just because the police ask to search your car, you don't have to allow them to. You may politely, but firmly, say no, repeatedly if necessary.

*Find out the reason for the stop and avoid unnecessary conversation not related to the specifics of the violation for which you were stopped.

*Don't argue.If you refuse to let them search, police may try to detain you by the road and search without your consent. You may ask questions about what is happening and why. It is unwise to be contentious.

*When your drivers license is returned, you may ask, "Am I free to leave?" If you are NOT free to leave, ask why you are under arrest, or why you are not free to leave.

*Take names.If you believe the police have violated your rights, write down information such as their names, badge numbers and license plate numbers.




Remember you have a right to:

*Know why you were stopped.This should be the first question you ask.

*Decline to answer questionsand avoid conversation beyond identifying yourself. You have the right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself. Don't wait for the police to read your rights to you. Anything you say can be used against you or cause further suspicion and interrogation.

*"Just say no" to requests to search.

*Tape record the interactionwith or without the officer's knowledge.

*Know the name and/or ID" of the officer(s).

*If you are arrested you have the right to know why.




If you are arrested or taken to a police station:

You have the right to remain silent and to talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police. You must cooperate with the booking procedure, but avoid unnecessary conversation. Tell the police nothing except your name, address and basic information that's on your drivers license. Do not give explanations, excuses or stories. Later you can make your defense in court based on what you and your lawyer decide is best. Ask to see a lawyer immediately and say, "I'm asserting my 5th and 6th Amendment Rights." If you cannot pay for a lawyer, you have a right to a free one, and should ask the police how the lawyer can be contacted. Do not talk without a lawyer present.



Tips to remember:

*A 1996 Supreme Court decision allows police to stop cars for traffic violations, even if the purpose of the stop is to search for weapons or drugs. You may be stopped for a dusty license plate or some other minor vehicle violation. The officer may think you look like a drug courier and he/she wants to check you out. They may run you through some questions while analyzing your responses and behavior to see if any "indicators" show up suggesting that you may be carrying drugs.

*According to the law, police need to see a violation in order to make a stop, although there are widespread reports of people being stopped for a violation which did not occur.

*Police need a "probable cause" to engage in a search without your consent. If the police have a probable cause, they have the right to search without your consent and they don't need to ask for your permission. The Constitution protects you from warrantless searches, but when you consent to a search you give up that protection. Once you give consent, you are authorizing a complete search of everything, including your vehicle, luggage and person. This may include taking your car apart while you wait in the patrol car.

*Probable cause regarding the search of a vehicle exists only "when the facts known to the officer would lead a person of ordinary care and prudence to entertain an honest and strong suspicion that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime" (if the driver is arrested, the vehicle can be searched).

*An officer may approach your vehicle and inform you that he/she smells marijuana, just to test your reaction and get you to consent to a search to prove your innocence.

*The only information the driver is required to give an officer is the basic identifying information that's on your drivers license and proof of vehicle insurance. Any other information is not necessary and may complicate the stop, causing you to be detained longer.

*Police may question passengers, but passengers who are not violating a law or suspected of a crime are not required to give their name or answer questions or "engage in any consentual conversation" with the officer.

*At the moment your license and registration are returned, you are technically free to leave. In the eyes of the law, the traffic stop is over. At this point, any further conversation with the officer, including answering more questions, is considered consensual, so be aware. This is a good time to ask if you are free to leave, and make your entry back onto the road.

*Typical questions you are not required to answer: Where are you going? Where are you traveling from? What do you plan to do there? What do you do for a living? Do you happen to have any weapons or illegal drugs in the car?




Take action:

You may file a report with CLMP, file a complaint against the police, or sue. CLMP can assist you in understanding your rights and options. CLMP can also help you file a complaint or assist you in contacting an attorney or other civil rights watch group, such as your local ACLU or NAACP chapter.

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