Charlotte Traffic Ticket Attorney
What are my rights during a traffic stop?
Blue lights in your rearview and a pit in your stomach. The overwhelming majority of us knows what this feels like. So what exactly do you need to know about your rights during a traffic stop?
First of all, if you are getting pulled over, move safely and slowly to an area where it is safe to stop. Never stop on the left side of the highway – you are risking getting an additional citation for improper stopping. Put your signal on to notify the officer that you are complying with his lights and sirens. If you are in an area where you feel unsafe and want to make sure the lights behind you belong to an actual law enforcement officer, call the police and let them know where you are to check if the vehicle behind you is an official police car.
Why was I pulled over?
Most of the time a law enforcement officer will pull you over after witnessing a traffic violation. The most common violation is speeding. In North Carolina an officer can use radar technology or make a visual estimation to determine your speed. Other common traffic violations include weaving, unsafe movements, failure to use a turn signal, failure to wear a seatbelt, expired tags and registration or issues with driver’s identification. It is important to know that an officer can run a car’s license plate anytime for any reason. If that check comes back saying the registered owner of the car has a suspended or expired driver’s license, an officer can initiate a traffic stop even when no other traffic violations were seen.
It is also worth noting if you drive a commercial vehicle, an officer is entitled to stop you to perform an inspection even when there have been no traffic violations.
Can an officer order me out of my car?
Although most don’t, yes, an officer can order the driver and any passengers out of the vehicle. Depending on the circumstances, the officer may even may be able to ask you to sit in the police car.
Can an officer search me during a traffic stop?
There is not an automatic right for an officer to search you or your passengers during a routine traffic stop however, there are two situations in which an officer can conduct a search. The first is when an officer has probable cause that a crime was or is being committed. For example, if an officer smells marijuana they can search you. The second situation when an officer may search your or your passengers is if he or she has a reasonable suspicion you are armed and dangerous. A reasonable suspicion comes from the specific set of circumstances surrounding your stop. The behavior of the driver and occupants or any visual indications of weapons can be factors in determining if the officer had a sufficient reason to search you. Since reasonable suspicion is determined on a case-by-case basis, it is important to discuss the specifics of your case with an experienced traffic ticket attorney.
Can an officer search my car during a traffic stop? Can they bring a drug dog on scene?
An officer is not entitled automatically to search your vehicle during a routine traffic stop. However, if an officer smells marijuana or alcohol coming from inside the vehicle and suspects another crime has been or is being committed, then the officer has probable cause and can search the inside of your car. Additionally, an officer is entitled to run a drug dog around the outside of your car at anytime during a routine traffic stop so long as doing so does not unreasonable delay the stop. If a drug dog alerts to the outside of your car, the officer then has probable cause to believe there are illegal substances inside your car and can search. So what is an unreasonable delay? North Carolina courts have ruled that a four-minute delay was not unreasonable but a ten to fifteen minute delay in getting a dog to the scene was too long.
Do I have to consent to a search of my car or myself?
No. You never have to consent to be searched. If you are asked for consent to a search and refuse, be clear and respectful in letting the officer know. If you withhold consent one of two things will happen. Often times an officer will ask for consent to search because they do not have probable cause or a reasonable suspicion that will allow them to conduct a search. In this case, when you refuse to consent to a search the officer will not be able to search you. Occasionally even when an officer has probable cause or reasonable suspicion, they will ask for consent. You can still refuse to consent but the officer is able to carry on with the search. A lot of factors come into play during “consensual” searches so it is very important to discuss your case with a defense attorney. Even if you gave consent to search, if that consent was deemed forced or coerced the search can be found to be illegal. If a search is found to be illegal, any evidence found during that search is tossed out.
How do I know when the stop is over? When am I free to go?
Courts have consistently ruled that when an officer has your driver’s license, registration and insurance paperwork, you are seized. Typically you are free to go when an officer returns your driver’s license, registration and insurance paperwork to you. Remember, the officer is not required to say the exact words, “You are free to go at this time.” In fact, some officers will return your items to you and then ask for consent to search. Many people in this situation feel they have to consent to search in order to complete the traffic stop. That is not true, you are still free to deny consent. If you are unsure, ask the officer in a clear and respectful way, “Officer, am I free to go at this time?”
Contact Our Traffic Attorneys in Charlotte, NC
It is important to keep in mind that every stop is different and it is essential you speak with an attorney regarding the specific circumstances surrounding your case if you feel that your constitutional rights have been violated during a stop. Our experienced traffic ticket attorneys in Charlotte are available to discuss your case and analyze every part of it to make sure you were treated fairly under the law. Call us at (704) 800-4220 or fill out the online form provided on this page and we will contact you back shortly.
Charlotte Criminal Defense Attorney