Knowing Your Rights: Traffic Stops

Perhaps the most important part of being an American citizen is learning to exercise the rights our forebears fought so hard for. Unfortunately, one situation in which people are often under informed about their rights is traffic stops. It is very important that people stand up for themselves in these instances, as the legal challenges that arise make up a large basis of our legal precedent. Getting stopped by police can be scary, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. Here are some helpful tips in exercising your rights during a traffic stop.


The Right to Remain Silent – We all have heard about the right to remain silent. However, in some states, you may be legally required to offer your name to identify yourself. Otherwise, you do indeed have the right not to answer questions without a lawyer present. It’s extremely important to positively assert this to the officer in a polite fashion. The phrase “I have decided not to answer questions without a lawyer present” is commonly used. Do note that an officer may react negatively to the assertion of your rights. It’s important not to antagonize the officer, and remember that the time to argue is in court. Anything you say will be used against you when the court proceedings begin.

You Have the Right to Refuse a Search – This Fourth Amendment right is perhaps the most trampled of all the liberties provided in the Bill of Rights. Most people don’t even exercise it, instead promoting a “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about” mentality. On top of that, the use of dogs is often implemented by police to skirt the Fourth Amendment, even though their efficacy has been consistently debunked. It is very important that citizens assert their right to refuse an illegal search and seizure. However, action should stop at the positive assertion “I do not consent to the search of my vehicle”. An officer very well may then illegally search your car, but just like with refusing to speak, it is important that you wait to argue your case in court, not with the officer.

You Have The Right to an Attorney –  You absolutely have the right to a public attorney in America, and if you have the means, you absolutely should not take it. Public defenders are notoriously over worked, under funded, and inadequate for their client’s legal needs. The chances of your lawyer petitioning for a plea bargain are tremendous, whether you’re guilty or innocent. We highly recommend hiring a private lawyer who will have the resources and the bandwidth to actually address your case.

Reducing Risk

As we’ve mentioned a few times, it’s extremely important never to antagonize an officer of the law. Remember, they are exercising the power of the state and the only legal recourse allowed in our country is through the courts. Additionally, it’s important not to offer too much any information, as any conflicting points can be presented as lying to the officer in court. Stay calm, don’t run, comply with all physical demands, and keep hands open where police can see them to avoid physical injury.

Potential Violations

If you are arrested, or you believe your rights were violated, it is important that you write down everything that you are able. During an arrest, this may be hard to do, so it’s important to maintain a polite demeanor with the police. If the situation does not result in an arrest, it’s important to write down everything you can from the officer’s name and badge number to their patrol car number and their agency. If injuries were sustained, they should recorded and photographed, and you should seek medical attention immediately. Finally, it’s important that you file a formal written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or their civilian complaint board. Often, you will be allowed to do this anonymously if you fear retribution.


In general, the police are just doing their job and trying to be of service. However, as citizens, we still have the responsibility to exercise our civil liberties. If you are looking for a criminal defense attorney in Columbus, Probst Law Office offers the professional legal services you need. Give us a call for more information.