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Your Rights When You Are Pulled Over

Michael Kuzma Attorney at Law April 14, 2023

Police car has a motorist stopped for a violationBeing pulled over by a police officer is rarely an enjoyable experience, but it is one that has happened to most of us at least once in our lives. The consequences for a seemingly minor infraction can sometimes have a greater impact than you initially imagine, which is why it is essential to know your rights when pulled over so you can minimize your risk of incrimination. 

If you’d like to speak with a traffic law attorney about a recent traffic stop you were involved in, contact the Law Office of Michael Kuzma. From my office in Buffalo, New York, I can represent those throughout the United States and Canada who have been ticketed in Western New York. 

Common Reasons to Be Pulled Over 

There are a number of reasons you may get pulled over by a cop, with some resulting in more serious penalties than others. These include exceeding the speed limit, driving too slow, equipment violations such as a broken headlight or taillight, an unsafe lane change, tailgating another vehicle, using your cell phone while driving, expired registration tags, missing license plate, or reckless driving. 

Understanding Your Rights

Every driver has the same rights when pulled over for a traffic stop. The first one that most people already know is their right to remain silent. The only thing you have to do when an officer pulls you over is provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance, but you do not have to answer any of their questions. You can simply say that you do not wish to answer and leave it at that. Importantly, you should always remain respectful and polite throughout your entire interaction.  

The second major right you retain when pulled over is to refuse a vehicle search. An officer must have a reasonable suspicion that she or he will find evidence of a crime being committed, but simply pulling you over is not enough, nor is refusing a vehicle search. Unless you give the officer permission, she or he would be violating of your Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.  

It is worth noting that there are exceptions to this rule with perhaps the most noteworthy being that if something is in “plain sight,” an officer may search to confiscate it. For example, if during a routine traffic stop an officer is able to see a weapon on the floor in the backseat of your car, she or he may take action. 

Another right that most people are familiar with are their Miranda rights—the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and that anything you say can be used against you in court. These are a set of rights that must be conveyed to any individual who is being arrested. The officer must ensure not just that these rights are read to you, but that you understand them.   

Possible Penalties  

Any time you are stopped by the police, the reason you were pulled over, and what occurs during the traffic stop, will have a huge impact on the consequences. This could range from a simple ticket with a fine to being arrested and taken to jail. Never try to fight with the officer when a citation is being issued or you are being arrested on a criminal charge. Simply stay quiet and cooperative and contact an attorney as soon as you can to start working on a defense strategy. 

Possible Defenses

When you meet with your traffic law attorney, she or he will go over your optional defenses when pulled over, but the details of your case will inform which approach you choose to take. In the case that you were pulled over for speeding, you could argue that the officer was mistaken about the speed you were going, especially if they did not use a radar gun or if you believe they mistook your vehicle for another.  

Another defense option is to say that even though you were technically speeding, you were still traveling safely and were only responding to the traffic conditions around you. Lastly, you may be able to argue that you were going over the speed limit out of necessity. This could happen if there was an emergency and you needed to get to your destination urgently. Or, perhaps you only sped to avoid a bigger, more serious accident (for instance, if you were trying to get out of the way of a semi-truck that was merging into your lane and didn't see you).  

Rely on a Dependable Traffic Law Attorney

Any time you have an interaction with the police, whether it is for a basic traffic stop or something more serious, you should consider the potential consequences while also remembering that you still retain several rights, even if you broke the law. If you have questions about a recent traffic violation or if you believe your rights were violated in some way, contact the Law Office of Michael Kuzma in Buffalo, New York.