In America, you have a right to be free from searches or seizures that are unreasonable. These rights, guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, are triggered whenever you are stopped by police in Philadelphia. Knowing what these rights entail can help you protect yourself against overreaching law enforcement officers, which can make a huge difference if you end up being charged with a crime.
Police officers are not allowed to pull someone over willy-nilly. They need to have a reason to make an arrest, detention, or traffic stop, and that reason has to be legitimate. If the officer who pulled you over did not have probable cause to believe that a crime or infraction was being committed, then any evidence that he or she obtains during the stop can be excluded from court.
Police Use Your Consent Against You
You have a right to be free from searches that are unreasonable, but one of the ways that even the most ridiculous search can become reasonable – and therefore permissible – is if you consent to it. Police know this and use it to the fullest extent they can by asking – sometimes politely, sometimes with the created insinuation that you have no choice but to obey – whether they can search your vehicle, your glove compartment, or even your pockets.
Whenever a police officer is relying on your consent to perform a search, you should always withhold it, even if you do not think that anything they find will be incriminating. If the officer goes ahead and does the search, anyway, they will have to justify their actions, later, and risk losing any evidence they find if they cannot.
Staying in Your Vehicle
Similarly, when a police officer asks you to step out of your vehicle, they are actually relying on your consent to comply: Unless you have already been arrested, you have a right to remain in your car.
This is especially important in the context of traffic stops for driving under the influence (DUI). When a cop asks you to exit your vehicle, it is often so they can administer field sobriety tests. These tests are not only very unreliable; they are also searches that trigger your Fourth Amendment rights, and the officer is relying on your consent to perform them. Additionally, unlike when an officer requests that you take a breathalyzer, Pennsylvania's implied consent law does not require you to perform field sobriety tests or risk an automatic license suspension. They are voluntary, and you have a right to refuse.
Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal and DUI-defense lawyer who serves the accused in Philadelphia. If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, you need his legal representation to fight the accusations and protect your rights and interests. By enforcing your rights during a traffic stop, though, you can help yourself by ensuring the police do not trample your rights to get the evidence they are looking for. Contact attorney Lento online or by phone at 215-535-5353.