Getting Pulled Over

The following article addresses some of the questions common to a traffic stop and provides suggestions for maintaining your rights to privacy. It is important to understand your rights thereby making informed decisions when being pulled over. For example, you have the right to say no when a police officer asks to search your vehicle, although that might not be your best course of action. After all, getting pulled over should be just that, nothing more and nothing less.

What rights are involved?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution places limits on the power of the police to make arrests, the power to search people and their property, and the power to seize objects and contraband (such as illegal drugs or weapons). These limits are the bedrock of search and seizure law. This article covers the basic issues that you should know, beginning with an overview of the Fourth Amendment itself.

In the context of being pulled over, there are several societal interests that come into play. The more important interests are, first, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Second, society has an interest in enforcing the vehicle code and other state laws.

The Fourth Amendment: Protecting Your Privacy

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Fourth Amendment, U.S. Constitution.

The search and seizure provisions of the Fourth Amendment created an individual’s right to privacy. To effectuate this right, the Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable” searches and seizures by state or federal law enforcement authorities. The flip side is that the Fourth Amendment does permit searches and seizures that are considered reasonable.

In practice, this means that the police may override your privacy concerns and conduct a search of your home, barn, car, boat, office, personal or business documents, bank account records, trash barrel, or whatever, if the police have probable cause to believe they can find evidence that you committed a crime, and a judge issues a search warrant, or the particular circumstances justify the search without a warrant first being issued. In sum, police may search your vehicle if they have probable cause to do so.


It usually happens when you least expect it, but suddenly there are flashing red lights as well as a solid red light on the patrol vehicle following you. Obviously, when a marked patrol vehicle has its flashing red lights on, the officer in that vehicle is attempting to get your attention and is ordering you to pull over. You should pull over immediately when safe to do so. It is a good idea to extinguish that marijuana cigarette if yours is still lit.

Always drive with a valid license and registration, since any violation of the California Vehicle Code gives police officers the right to pull you over. It’s amazing how many people are pulled over and their vehicles searched because their registration tags are not current. You should always drive a vehicle that is properly registered and maintained so that the police have no reason to pull you over. Also, you should always obey the traffic laws. Even when you have not violated a law, a police officer may still pull you over if he has reasonable suspicion to do so. For example, you may match the description of a bank robber, or a police officer sees you smoking what obviously appears to be a “joint.”


A traffic stop can be no longer than necessary to enforce the purpose of a traffic stop. In other words, police must diligently pursue their investigations in such a way that will confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly.

Therefore when a driver has produced a valid license, proof of insurance, and proof of entitlement to operate the vehicle (i.e. the driver states that the car is borrowed with verification that the car is not reported stolen), the officer may issue a warning or a citation, but then must usually allow the driver to proceed without further delay or questioning.

TIPS to avoid unnecessary delays

The following are things that you can do which will hopefully shorten any detention or traffic stop. Never get out of your car unless the police officer asks you to do so. Try to keep your hands where an officer can see them. Wait until you have asked and the police officer agrees for you to reach into the back seat for your wallet inside of your jacket, thus avoiding sudden movements. You get the idea. In essence, police officers must feel safe during a citizen encounter and will more likely believe your explanation if they are immediately at ease. For example when you say, “I didn’t see that stop sign” or “I didn’t know I had a taillight out.”

You may hate police officers when they’re issuing that fifth speeding ticket or when your vehicle from head to toe, but when you’re getting robbed or victimized in some other way, they are somehow now your best friend. So remember, police officers are people just doing their jobs, so show them a little courtesy. And hey maybe, just maybe they’ll let you off with a warning.

February 11,, 2006 by Quincy Hoang.


The information contained in this web site is provided as a service to the Internet community, and does not constitute legal advice. Attorney Quincy Hoang tries to provide quality information, but makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this web site. Since legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel.

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