When you ride as a passenger in a vehicle, you are giving a certain amount of control over to the driver. For example, if the driver is exceeding the speed limit, you could find yourself in a situation being pulled over and stopped by the police.
What happens if the driver has an illegal substance in the car? Can the police search you or place you under arrest? Being informed about your rights as a passenger during a traffic stop can help you feel empowered the next time you have an encounter with the police. Here are a few things you should know according to experienced Dallas criminal defense attorney Mick Mickelsen.
Police Need a Reasonable Suspicion to Make a Traffic Stop
Under the Fourth Amendment, people have a right to privacy, including a right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. To make a traffic stop, police first need a reasonable suspicion the driver has committed a crime or traffic infraction. Whether it’s exceeding the speed limit or driving with a burned out taillight, the police can’t just pull someone over because they feel like it.
However, the police are also able to stop a car if they have a reasonable suspicion someone in the car has committed a crime. For example, if the vehicle matches the description of a vehicle that fled the scene of a bank robbery, the police may stop the car to determine if the driver or anyone inside was involved in the crime.
Passenger Rights During a Traffic Stop
When someone is riding as a passenger in a vehicle stopped by the police, they become part of the stop by default. In other words, they can’t simply exit the vehicle and walk away. In Pennsylvania v. Mimms, the Supreme Court ruled police officers are able to order a passenger out of a vehicle during a traffic stop if they need to do so for safety reasons. The Court affirmed this decision in Maryland v. Wilson, in which it held that passengers may pose a danger to police, and that police may restrict the passengers’ movements to ensure the officer’s safety.
In Arizona v. Johnson, the Court held that any reasonable passenger would understand he or she is not free to leave the scene while a police officer is conducting a routine traffic stop.
The Supreme Court also recognized that the police intrude on a passenger’s privacy rights when they order someone out of the vehicle or restrict the person’s movements. However, any privacy right must be balanced against the possibility of a threat to the officer’s safety.
When the Court weighed the safety risk against the right to privacy, it held that it’s important for officers to be able to restrict a passenger’s movements, including ordering them to leave the vehicle or to sit on the curb while the officer completes the traffic stop. These are all legitimate police actions as long as they’re done in the interest of ensuring the officer’s safety.
Once the traffic stop has concluded, however, the officer no longer has any right to control or direct the passenger’s movements.
Tips for Dealing with the Police at a Traffic Stop
If you’re stopped by police as a passenger in a vehicle, it’s important to stay calm. It’s also important to contact a Dallas criminal defense lawyer at the Law Office of Broden & Mickelsen if you believe the police have violated your rights during a traffic stop.
If the police broke the law when they stopped you, it’s possible the court will throw out any evidence the police obtained pursuant to an unlawful stop. A criminal defense lawyer in Dallas can help explain your rights.
As a passenger, you should deal with the police in much the same way you would as the vehicle’s driver.
- Be polite – Be courteous toward the officer. If you’re rude or abrasive, the officer may suspect that you’re hiding something. It’s always better to be polite during a traffic stop, even if you’re annoyed that you were pulled over.
- Keep your hands visible – Just because you’re not driving doesn’t mean you should hide your hands or make any suspicious movements. Keep in mind the officer might feel more cautious about stopping a car with more than one person in it, especially if the officer is working alone. The officer wants to protect their own safety, which means they might order you to put your hands where the officer can see them.
- Don’t exit the vehicle unless the officer requests it – You should comply with an officer’s request to leave the vehicle, but don’t get out of the vehicle unless the officer orders you to do so.
- Don’t consent to a search – You have a right to refuse a search, but that doesn’t mean the police won’t try to get you to agree to one. If the police ask you if they can search you, politely decline and ask the officer why they would like to conduct a search.
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Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case.