Skip to main content
Civil RightsPolice Misconduct

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

By November 29, 2023April 5th, 2024No Comments

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 right to be secure in your car.

From Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney Jacqui Ford, here’s what you need to know about getting pulled over.

When can a police officer pull you over in Oklahoma?

A police officer can pull you over if they have reasonable suspicion.

Unfortunately, there’s no cut-and-dry definition of reasonable suspicion. It’s a lower standard than probable cause, but a much higher standard than simply 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 to do a drug sniff on your car.

Do you have to follow the police officer’s orders when you’re pulled over?

You’re not required to show a police officer your ID simply because they’ve 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.

What can you refuse when a police officer pulls you over?

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 includes the officer leaning in, reaching in, or putting a flashlight in the vehicle to shine it on persons or the car itself.

Can the officer search your vehicle while you’re pulled over?

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 they think or believe), 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 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.

Contact Jacqui Ford Law today

At Jacqui Ford Law, we help our clients stand up for themselves. Our criminal defense attorneys are dedicated to each and every client we take. If you have a question about your criminal case (and how it came to be), don’t hesitate to contact us.