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Know Your Rights When Stopped By Police

Just about everyone has experienced that sinking feeling when they see those familiar blue lights in their rearview mirror and hear the siren signaling them to pull over. Whether you’ve gone a little over the speed limit, or have no idea why law enforcement is stopping you, you’re likely feeling stress and anxiety. It’s crucial you understand your constitutional rights at a traffic stop, in order to defend yourself from any charges that might result.

What to do at a traffic stop

If a police officer is signaling you to pull over, put on your turn signal to acknowledge them, then slowly and safely pull over as soon as possible. Stay calm, turn off the engine and keep both hands on the wheel. (If it’s dark out, turn on your interior light.) Do not exit your vehicle unless the officer instructs you to, and don’t volunteer any information, including answering the question, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”

You’re required by law to provide the following to the police officer:

  • Driver’s license
  • Registration
  • Proof of insurance

You are NOT required by law to consent to a search of your vehicle without a proper warrant, under your Fourth Amendment rights. However, there  are some exceptions to this rule, such as the Plain View Doctrine. Additionally, If police have other reasons to suspect that your vehicle contains evidence of a crime, such as illicit drugs or illegal firearms, they may search the car without your consent. Even the smell of marijuana or alcohol could be enough.

How to carry your guns at a traffic stop

According to South Carolina Code 16-23-20, you may only carry a firearm in your car “secured in a closed glove compartment, closed console, closed trunk, or in a closed container secured by an integral fastener and transported in a luggage compartment of the vehicle.” If you have a concealed weapon permit (CWP), you can store your weapon under your seat, or in any open or closed container in the passenger compartment.

If you have a CWP, and are carrying a concealable weapon, you must inform the officer you are a permit holder and present your permit when the officer identifies himself as a law enforcement officer and requests your identification or driver’s license.

What if the police car is unmarked?

Most police departments use both marked and unmarked cars in traffic stops. However, it’s wise to sometimes be suspicious of unmarked vehicles attempting to pull you over in an attempt to commit a crime. If you feel unsure about pulling over for an unmarked police car, you may:

  • Put on your hazards to acknowledge the officer
  • Call 911 to ask the dispatcher to verify the vehicle behind you is an actual police officer
  • Drive safely to the nearest, well-lit and populated area
  • If the officer is in plain clothes, you may request a uniformed officer report to the scene.

The South Carolina ACLU also offers guidance on your rights when stopped by law enforcement.

At The Law Offices of A. Randolph Hough, P.A., we fight to protect your constitutional rights when you’re facing criminal charges. We understand that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and Attorney Hough’s decades of experience in the criminal justice system ensure that you get a fair chance. To schedule a free consultation at one of our offices in Columbia or Charleston, please call (803) 219-2783 or fill out our contact form.