What Are Your Rights If (When) A Police Officer Pulls You Over?

Imagine you’re driving down the road and then see the blue and red lights flashing in your rearview mirror. You may not know why you’re being pulled over. Perhaps your taillight is out. Perhaps your tags have expired. Perhaps there’s a more serious reason why a police officer may pull you over. It’s also possible that there is no discernible reason that you know.

However, just because a police officer pulls you over, you do not lose your rights to be secure in your car.

When can a police officer pull you over?

A police officer can pull you over if she has reasonable suspicion. There’s no cut and dry definition of reasonable suspicion. It’s a lower standard than probable cause, but a much higher standard than simple a “hunch” or a “feeling.” A reasonable suspicion is one that a police officer can articulate as being a specific reason to believe that people in the car have committed a crime or are currently committing a crime.

For example, it would be reasonable suspicion if a car zoomed passed at 20 miles over the speed limit. It would not be reasonable suspicion if a driver had no warrants, the car was in good repair, and the driver broke no laws but simply had an “I Hate Cops” bumper sticker.

How long can you be pulled over?

There is no set time, so long as it is reasonable. An officer may pull you over for a short period of time, long enough to determine if you have committed a crime, if you’re wanted by the police, or if there is any reason to ticket you or arrest you. For example, a police officer can’t pull you over for suspicion of driving drunk and compel you to sit on the side of the road for an hour until he thinks you’ve sobered up enough to drive. Likewise, you can’t be forced to sit on the side of the road and wait for two hours until a K-9 unit can come do a drug sniff on your car.

You do have to show the officer your ID, and you do have to get out of the vehicle when asked.

You’re not required to show a police officer your ID simply because she’s asked for it. Citizens aren’t required to have government-issued IDs, much less carry them on their person at all times. However, if you’re driving a vehicle, you have to produce your license and registration, because drivers must have an active, valid driver’s license to drive and the vehicle must have a valid registration to be on the road.

You DON’T have to let the officer inside your vehicle or allow them to shine a light and look through your car.

An officer only needs reasonable suspicion to pull you over and detain you for a short period. Being detained, however, doesn’t give the officer permission to enter your vehicle. This means leaning in, reaching in, or putting a flashlight in the vehicle to shine it on persons or the car itself.

Search of your vehicle – Can they? Do I have to let them?

The answer is it depends. The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful searches and seizures. A police officer doesn’t have a right to search your car simply because you’ve been detained, so the police officer must have a permissible reason to search your vehicle.

The police can search your car if:

  • You give them permission,
  • Your car is impounded,
  • They have a valid search warrant,
  • They’re arresting you, or
  • There is probable cause.


But do you have to give them permission? First, you’re not required to consent to any searches of your person, your home, or your belongings, and refusing a search is not evidence of guilt, nor does it create a reasonable suspicion. However, since the other reasons a police officer can search your car don’t require your permission or input, it’s likely that the police have no lawful reason to search your car, so they’re seeking permission. Only the owner can give permission to search the car; passengers without ownership cannot.

If the police don’t have permission, they need either a warrant or probable cause to search the vehicle.

What is Probable Cause, and When Would the Police Have It?

Probable cause is a standard above reasonable suspicion. It means that due to what the police officer can observe (not just what she thinks or believes), a crime was likely committed or is likely being committed. Probable cause is needed before the police can search the car. However, this usually means that the police can only search what is visible, like the dashboard, the console, the floors, and the seats.

The police can also only search the parts of the vehicle they can see from the outside unless you give them permission, or if there’s probable cause to search the unseen places of a car for evidence of a crime. For example, if a police officer pulls a driver over and sees them reach under their seat before the officer comes, the officer has probable cause to search for contraband under the seat. However, if nothing is found that leads to an arrest, the officer can’t go on a fishing expedition and check under all the seats, the trunk, or the glove compartment.   

Do you have to take the field sobriety and Breathalyzer test?

In short, yes, and you’ve already given the police permission to conduct them. In every state in the United States, there is an “implied consent” law, meaning that if a driver chooses to drive on the public roads, the driver automatically gives the police permission to check the driver’s sobriety if there is reasonable suspicion that the driver is intoxicated.

While Breathalyzer tests are considered a search under the Constitution, they are not considered unreasonable searches the same way that demanding a blood test will be. Thus, if you are driving on a public road and you are pulled over under suspicion of driving under the influence, you must take the field sobriety test and the breathalyzer test if requested since you have already given the officers permission to search your body for drugs or alcohol under the implied consent laws.

What happens if you refuse the Breathalyzer test or the field sobriety test?

This depends on the state where you are arrested and where you are licensed. In many states, refusing a Breathalyzer is an automatic six-month suspension of your driver’s license for six months up to one year. In other states, you may have mandatory jail time for refusal.

However, the police make mistakes, and sometimes they violate driver’s rights by unlawfully pulling them over and searching them. Sobriety tests can also have false positives. If you’re currently facing charges due to being pulled over by a police officer, speak with a criminal attorney.

When and how can the police search you

Dealing with the police in any way can often be a stressful situation, especially if officers want to search your home, your business, your vehicle, or your cell phone.

The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, but how is unreasonable defined? Do you know your rights?

When can police search your home or place of business?

In most cases, police need a warrant to search your home. A warrant establishes probable cause because it has to be approved by a judge. But even without a warrant, here are the instances in which a police officer can search your residence:

  • Probable cause – This means that officers have reason to believe there is evidence of a crime inside the home, or that someone inside the home has committed a crime.
  • Consent – You or someone in the home gave police permission to search.
  • Something is in “plain view” – If you have a bag of marijuana sitting openly on your living room table when you open the door for the officer, it gives police probable cause to search your home without a warrant.
  • You’ve just been arrested – After an arrest, police are allowed to search the area where the suspect was arrested to look for criminal evidence.
  • Emergency situations – If someone’s life or the general welfare of the public is in danger, police can search your home without a warrant.

When can police search your vehicle?

Unlike your home or your business, which in most cases requires a warrant, police only need probable cause to search your vehicle. It can’t just be a feeling the officer has. He or she has to have some facts or evidence that something illegal is going on.

When can police search your cell phone?

Just like your home, police are not allowed to search your cell phone without a warrant, because the contents of your cell phone are just like the contents of your pockets. There are exceptions to the rule, however. Here are some of them:

  • Consent – The owner of the phone gave permission for law enforcement to search it.
  • Plain view – The cell phone and/or the contents in the phone were in plain view
  • Public school – The police searched your phone at a public school.
  • Searched after arrest – You were already under arrest when the officer in question searched your phone. Still, officers mostly need a warrant even if you are under arrest, especially if you tell them at the time of your arrest that you do NOT consent to your cell phone being searched.
  • Stop and frisk – You are being stopped because police have “reasonable suspicion” that you have committed, are committing, or will commit a crime.
  • Emergency/police chase – If you were the subject of a police chase, then police might search your phone because they have reason to believe you would destroy evidence related to the pursuit or any crime that happened before the pursuit.

When can police dogs search your vehicle?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is legal for police dogs to search your car during a traffic stop, but officers cannot make you wait longer for a dog to sniff your vehicle.

In other words, the traffic stop should not take any longer than it would have had the dog not been involved in sniffing the vehicle.

There are a lot of rules — and a lot of exceptions — when it comes to police searching your personal property. Countless criminal cases have been thrown out because it was found that officers did not uphold the law when searching for illegal things or activity.

If you or someone you love has been arrested as a result of an illegal search, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to review your case. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.


How is police brutality handled in prisons

Whether you’re in prison for the worst of the worst crime or something nonviolent, you still have the same basic rights as an American under the U.S. Constitution.

Inmates’ rights are a controversial topic sometimes, as some people believe in the mantra, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” but inmate abuse is a common occurrence in prisons across America.

If you have a family member or a friend in prison, you should be aware of the rights of inmates.


What are the basic rights of inmates?

Here are some of the most basic rights of people who are incarcerated:

  • The right to humane living conditions and facilities: Extreme prison overcrowding, broken toilets and showers, and extreme heat or extreme cold are just a few things that prisoners should not be subjected to, because every prisoner has the right to humane conditions under the Eighth Amendment that outlines cruel and unusual punishment.
  • The right to not be sexually assaulted: The Prison Rape Elimination Act protects prisoners from unwanted sexual contact behind bars. It’s an effort to fix the long-term problem with sexual abuse in prison.
  • The right to not be segregated due to race: Inmates cannot legally be segregated in their cells or pods by race, unless exigent circumstances arise and the segregation is temporary and for security purposes.
  • The right to file a complaint: If an inmate believes he or she is being treated unfairly, the inmate must have an avenue by which to air his or her grievances. One method is to file a federal complaint with the U.S. Justice Department, which investigates allegations of civil rights abuses in institutions and also investigates police brutality. Police brutality can extend to corrections officers in prisons.  
  • The right to adequate medical care: Whether it’s a short-term illness like the flu, or a long-term condition, inmates have the right to be treated by medical professionals in a timely and competent manner. This includes the right to mental health care, as a large number of prisoners in America suffer from mental illness.
  • The rights afforded under the First Amendment: Inmates have the right to read, write, speak, pray, practice religion, and communicate with the outside world. These rights can be curtailed in some ways — prison guards can read your mail and monitor your phone calls — but they are still rights that all inmates have unless they have lost them because of disciplinary or security issues.


If you or someone you love has had their civil rights violated in prison, you need the help of an experienced civil rights attorney. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.


Why don’t we talk about Latino victims of Police Brutality?

Of the 777 individuals killed by police by October 2017, 149 are hispanic. However, there is reason to believe these numbers are underreported.

The latino and hispanic population is the second most reported demographic reported to be victims of police killings, second only to African Americans as a group. However, coverage of police violence against latinos goes underreported by the media.

There is also evidence to suggest that latinos are less likely to speak out after an incident of police brutality occurs, meaning that incidents are less likely to be recorded.


Hispanics face unique circumstances

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Hispanics make up 17.8 percent of the overall population, yet account for 23 percent of all police searches and 30 percent of all arrests.

Eric Rodriguez of UnidosUS argues in a NPR Newshour report that America has a history of seeing racial conflicts in terms of black and white, which excludes the hispanic population.

Issues surrounding immigration can heighten police violence. In many communities local-law enforcement sign agreements to enforce federal immigration laws. Says Rodriguez, “So they were empowered to do things that, in some ways, would enhance the probability of abuse and profiling.”

Hispanics may also be disinclined to report violent police encounters if they fear it will jeopardize their immigration status, or the status of family members. There is a culture of trying to keep one’s head down to avoid unnecessary attention.

Furthermore, the latino community lacks the organization as that other minority groups have, according to Juan Cartagena, the president of LatinoJustice. In a New York Times article Cartagena observes that the latino community lacks a central figurehead and that religion does not play as a strong of a role in organizing as it does in African American communities. As Cartagena notes, “The Catholic Church really hasn’t used that kind of messaging as a way to galvanize support.”

Combined, all of these circumstances mean that hispanic communities struggle to find justice when police brutality and killings occur.


This national problem affects Oklahoma residents as well

Already in 2017 Oklahoma City has seen the deaths of 5 individuals at the hands of the police.

In the most recent incident, a deaf hispanic man, Magdiel Sanchez, was shot and killed by police, even as neighbors yelled to officers, “He can’t hear!” At the time, law enforcement officers were responding to a hit-and-run accident.

When officers arrived they found Sanchez standing on the porch holding a two-foot metal rod. Neighbors said that Sanchez was known to carry the pipe because there were many stray dogs in the area. Unable to hear the officers Sanchez, did not respond to police orders to drop the pipe.

With weapons drawn, the two officers simultaneously fired multiple shots into Sanchez from fifteen feet away. Sanchez was pronounced dead at the scene.

OKC public information officer for the police department, Captain Bo Matthews explained the shooting by saying, “In those situations, very volatile situations, when you have a weapon out, you can get what they call tunnel vision or you can really lock into just the person that has the weapon that’d be the threat against you.”

The two officers involved were not wearing body cameras at the time, so there is no documented evidence of the incident beyond several eyewitness accounts. The officers allege that Sanchez was walking toward them as opened fire.

Sanchez was not the driver and was not involved in the hit-and-run accident. Nor had he any previous police record. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

If you believe your constitutional rights were violated, or the rights of anyone you love have been violated, you need the help of an experienced attorney. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.

Police misconduct statistics vs officer safety

Increased media attention on both police misconduct and violence against police officers might lead you to believe that there’s been a sharp rise in the number of police officers being killed in the line of duty each year in the United States.

According to researchers, that assumption would be wrong, but it’s important to note that in 2016 there were more police officers killed by gunfire than in 2015 — significantly more.

How many police officers are killed in the line of duty?

Here are some numbers on police officers killed in the line of duty:

  • Overall, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty in 2016 rose by just 10 percent, but the number of officers who died after being shot rose by 56 percent.
  • In 2016, 64 police officers were killed in gun incidents, up from 41 in 2015.

Former police officer Seth Stoughton, now an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, told NPR that it’s misleading to compare the numbers from year-to-year. Although there have been some fluctuations with the numbers over the past few years, overall, police killings are only half as high as they were four decades ago.

There has been a change, however, in the perception of violence against police officers, thanks to high-profile killings of multiple police officers in 2016, including in Dallas and Baton Rouge, where snipers targeted officers.

How many people are killed by police each year?

The number of people killed by police officers each year is much higher than the number of officers killed. Here are some statistics:

  • About 1,000 people are shot and killed each year by on-duty police officers, according to CNN. Those numbers come from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • As of September 2016, only 77 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005.
  • Of those 77 charged, 26 were convicted, 28 were not convicted, and 23 of those cases were still pending as of last year.
  • Of the 26 convictions, 13 of the officers pleaded guilty.
  • In 2015, a year in which several high-profile cases of black men being killed by police came to light, 18 police officers were criminally charged. That’s three times more than usual.
  • Collecting data on police misconduct and crimes committed by police officers is no easy task, because there is no official national data set.


If you or someone you love has been the target of police misconduct, you need an experienced attorney on your side. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today for help.




Can you sue the police department?

If you’re involved with a lawsuit against a police officer, most likely it’s because the officer violated one of the following civil rights afforded to you by the Constitution:

  • Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Excessive Force
  • False arrest and/or illegal search and seizure

But not all actions are subject to a lawsuit, and police officers have what’s called qualified immunity, or a court precedent that’s designed to protect law enforcement officers from frivolous lawsuits, and not let the threat of a potential lawsuit get in the way of doing what can turn out to be a very dangerous job.

When can you sue the police?

If you have a claim against a police officer for excessive force, discrimination, harassment or another civil rights violation, you must be able to prove the following:

  • You have to prove a pattern of abusive, discriminatory or harassing behavior by the officer in question. Court precedents don’t allow lawsuits for one specific incident.
  • If you are claiming that you were wrongfully arrested, you have to prove that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated because of the unreasonable search or seizure. In other words, you have to prove that police did not have probable cause or enough evidence to arrest you. Police officers, on the other hand, only have to prove that they believed to the best of their ability at the time that there was sufficient evidence or probable cause for a judge to throw your case out.
  • If you are claiming excessive force, you’ll have to show there was significant injury — or death if you are a loved one suing on behalf of someone who died in police custody. Just how severe your injury was and whether it was serious enough for a lawsuit will have to be determined by a judge or jury.

Who do you sue when you file a lawsuit against the police?

When you file a lawsuit against law enforcement, you can name the following people and/or entities in the suit:

  • The individual officer or officers involved
  • The supervisor or police chief
  • The government agency that oversees the officer in question.

What types of damages can I seek when I sue the police?

If you are successful in your lawsuit against the police, you could be awarded the following types of damages:

  • Actual damages: The value of the medical bills, lost wages, and any other calculable expense you incurred.
  • Punitive damages: Extra money that’s meant to punish the police for their wrongdoing.
  • Civil Rights damages: This is money that’s specifically set aside for any violations of civil rights.

No matter the offense, suing the police or the police department is no easy task. That’s why you need the help of an experienced civil rights attorney on your side. Call Jacqui Ford’s office today.

A closer look at police who have fired their weapon on duty

With police officer-involved shootings making headlines and viral social media posts across the country, you might be tempted to think that a large percentage of police officers have been in a situation in which they have fired their duty weapon.

According to the Pew Research Center, that assumption would be false.

A survey conducted by Pew showed that only 27 percent of law enforcement officers have ever fired their service weapon while on duty. But there is question as to whether some officers are more prone to fire their weapons than others.

Who is more likely to fire their gun in the line of duty?

Pew’s survey found the following when conducting research on which officers are more likely to fire their service weapon:

  • Male officers are more than twice as likely as female officers to shoot their service weapon. Thirty percent of male officers have fired their weapons, while only 11 percent of female officers have done the same. This is still true even after taking into account the differences in what kinds of jobs they have, the length of time they have served, their age, and the size of the city and department where they serve.
  • White officers are more likely than minority officers to have shot their duty guns — the statistic is 31 percent vs. 21 percent.
  • Did you know that military veterans account for 28 percent of all police officers in the United States? And it turns out, a higher percentage of veterans who are police officers have fired their weapon while on duty.
  • Another interesting fact is that in cities with higher violent crime rates, fewer officers have fired their guns. In cities with lower violent crime rates, police officers were “significantly” more likely to have fired their weapon.
  • In larger cities with larger departments, there’s a higher chance that an officer has fired his or her weapon.

What are the characteristics of people who have fired their service weapon?

Here are a few key findings of the survey that might also surprise you:

  • Officers who have fired their weapons while on duty are “somewhat” more likely to favor harsher, more physical interactions for dealing with suspects.
  • They are more likely to believe that civil rights for black Americans are up to par and don’t need any tweaking.
  • Officers who have fired their weapon while on duty are more likely to favor Second Amendment rights and gun ownership as opposed to gun control.

Regardless of officers’ attitudes, firing a gun while on duty is a serious situation that calls for a thorough investigation.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of police brutality or excessive force, you need an experienced civil rights attorney on your side. Contact Jacqui Ford’s office today for help.

What is the police disciplinary process?

When it comes to police misconduct, disciplining officers for wrongdoing is one of the hardest parts of a police chief’s job.

The process for disciplining police officers can vary greatly from city to city, state to state and department to department. Police officers can be disciplined for a number of things, including excessive force, criminal misconduct, and malfeasance, among other things.

In Oklahoma, if a police officer is fired or resigns because of an internal investigation, police departments are required to notify the Council on Law Enforcement Education within 30 days of the officer leaving.

What kinds of discipline can officers face for misconduct?

The punishment for police misconduct is handled on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the infraction, punishments could include:

  • Being banned from doing police work in Oklahoma indefinitely (if the officer is convicted of a felony for domestic violence crimes or crimes of a “moral turpitude)
  • A letter of reprimand
  • Suspension
  • Suspension without pay
  • Verbal warning

How has Oklahoma City dealt with police misconduct over the past 10 years?

According to a report from The Oklahoman, over the past 10 years the Oklahoma City Police Department has either fired, demoted, suspended or allowed the resignations of at least 63 police officers. They were accused of a wide range of infractions, including soliciting prostitutes, drinking and drug use on the job and excessive force.

Here are some of the key findings of the paper’s investigation:

  • Several officers were rehired by the Oklahoma City Police Department after they had been fired for misconduct. Some of those infractions include driving under the influence, lying and criminal acts. They were rehired after their cases were arbitrated.
  • At least a few Oklahoma City police officers have been suspended more than once.
  • The department did not release the names of 25 officers who left the department during an internal investigation, which means that the public cannot see if the officers are continuing their law enforcement careers in other jurisdictions.

In Oklahoma City, the officers’ contract with their police union gives them the chance to challenge their punishment or termination through an arbitration process in which an arbitrator hears both sides then makes a decision. That decision is the final one, and it can’t be challenged in court by the Oklahoma City Police Department.  

The arbitration process has been called a “national problem” that persists in other police departments as well. It sometimes forces departments to take back officers who were fired for integrity issues, according to Brian Buchner, president of National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.

Police discipline is a complicated issue, particularly because officers have more power than other professions to use excessive and sometimes lethal force. That’s why it’s so important that you have an experienced civil rights and criminal defense attorney on your side for every encounter you have with police.

If you or someone you love has been the victim of police misconduct, contact Jacqui Ford’s office today.

Oklahoma City Police Shoot, Kill Deaf Man

“He can’t hear! He can’t hear!”

Those are the words that neighbors and witnesses said they continued to yell the night of September 19, 2017, when Oklahoma City Police shot and killed a deaf man on the southeast side of the city.

Police said the victim, 35-year-old Magdiel Sanchez, was standing on a porch with a 2-foot pipe in his hand, and that he advanced on the officers and didn’t heed to their commands for him to drop the pipe.

“Myself and my daughter were actually screaming at him not, you know, that he was deaf, that he couldn’t hear anything. And, they proceeded on shooting him,” neighbor Julio Rayos told KFOR.

“The guy does movements. He don’t speak. He don’t hear. So, mainly, it’s hand movements that he does. That’s how we communicated with him. And, he was actually I believe he was trying to, he was frustrated trying to tell them what was going on.”

Here are some other notable facts about this tragic case:

  • Neighbors said Sanchez, who is not only deaf, but also mentally disabled, had never been aggressive with anyone.
  • They said he walked up and down the street every day and lived with his parents and grandparents.
  • Police were actually searching for Sanchez’ father when the fatal shooting happened. He was a suspect in a hit-and-run accident.
  • Two officers were at the scene of the shooting, and both fired weapons at the same time. One of the officers, Sgt. Christopher Barnes, shot his gun, while the other officer, Lt. Matthew Lindsey, deployed his taser.
  • The victim, Mr. Sanchez, died at the scene.
  • Barnes, the officer who shot Sanchez, is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
  • It will be up to the district attorney to decide whether either officer will face criminal charges.
  • Neither police officer was wearing a body camera at the time of the deadly shooting.

Officer-involved shootings have been making headlines across the country for the past few years, prompting protests in cities where officers aren’t being charged criminally for the deaths.

The shooting of Magdiel Sanchez is also making national news, and it’s a case that’s likely to cause much controversy.

Cases like this bring up really tough questions about the use of force by police officers and overreaching of police authority.

That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced civil rights and criminal defense attorney on your side if you are ever on the wrong side of police brutality or involved with any police misconduct.

If you or someone you love has been a victim of police brutality, contact Jacqui Ford’s office today for help.