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Know Your Rights

Posted by RCaldwell on November 16, 2012

What should you do if you are pulled over by a police officer in your vehicle?

It's late at night.  You've been out at a party with your friends or co-workers.  You're driving.  Pretty soon you are pulled over by a police officer.  The first thing you should remember is not to panic.  Always have your insurance information, vehicle registration information, and license nearby for times like this so that you can easily get them without having to worry about where they are.  The less panicked you are, the less likely an officer is going to prolong the traffic stop.

When the police officer approaches you in your vehicle, you have the right to not utter a word to the police officer.  The police officer can ask you to step out of your vehicle if she wants to question you, but you do not have to answer her questions. The police officer will be inspecting you to see if your eyes are red, bloodshot, or glassy and if you smell like alcohol or marijuana.  The officer will be inspecting your vehicle from the outside.  You have the right not to volunteer information. Remember, any thing you say and any action you make can and will be used against you.  If an officer asks to search your car, you have the right to refuse that search.  Either way, they are going to take up your valuable time.

The police officer will not appreciate you asserting your rights and will act irritated.

If the officer believes you are under the influence, the officer will then ask you to perform a series of sobriety tests. Note that officers rarely make you feel like you have a choice in participating in these sobriety tests.  In this scenario, you can politely refuse to participate in all of the tests.  You can also ask for an attorney to contact.  In Missouri, the officer cannot ask you any more questions or ask you to do anything until you have consulted with an attorney or have one present.  You should know, your refusal to perform the tests can be held against you in court, but by refusing, you have not created any evidence against you.  You have this right.  Asking for your attorney to be present or asking to consult with one cannot be used against you.

If the officer believes you are intoxicated in some way despite your having not participated in the sobriety tests, he will have to make very sure that he thinks you are intoxicated, otherwise, any evidence after his arrest of you could be thrown out of the case by a judge. The police officer can ask if you will perform a breath test, a urine test, or a drug test. If you refuse, you might lose your license for a year, so you want to make sure you know what's more important to you: the possibility of having a driving while intoxicated conviction or not having your license for a year.  Refusing to give a breath, blood, or urine test can be used against you at a trial.

However, in this scenario, you have refused to participate in the sobriety tests, and you have refused to give a blood, breath, or urine test. Now, the only evidence a Prosecutor has to convict you at trial are your refusals, your appearance/demeanor, and how you were driving on the road.

Many people are not intoxicated in these scenarios, but they become so frightened of being pulled over and of the possibility of being accused of this crime, that, though incredibly nervous, they decide to participate in the sobriety tests and the breath/blood/urine tests. Some of these people fail the sobriety test and not the breath/blood/urine test and are still prosecuted. Some of these people may even lose at trial.  If you think you might be this type of person, consider your rights.

Always remember, the police officer may be your friend from school, but as an officer, she is a friend of the State, and she likes getting people convicted.  Officers want you to be honest because it makes their job easier, but that's not for what our rights exist.  The framers of the Constitution and the subsequent United States and Missouri Supreme Courts have vigorously defended these rights.  Don't give them up. Know your rights on the road.

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