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Knowing your rights when police pull you over

You may be feeling many conflicting emotions as you watch the latest viral videos of Kentucky police encounters with citizens. Watching a group of officers wrestling a teenager or forcing a seemingly unarmed person to the ground may be upsetting, and you may have questions about whether that kind of force is necessary.

An important lesson to learn from these videos is that you do not always know when a routine traffic stop can escalate into a more serious event. While it is important to keep in mind that viral videos rarely tell the whole story, knowing your rights and the limitations of law enforcement is critical since you never know when you may be involved in a police encounter.

A routine traffic stop

Police officers may not pull you over unless they have a good reason, or probable cause, such as witnessing you committing a traffic violation. Once an officer pulls you over, there are certain actions that must take place, for example:

  • The officer must tell you his or her name and explain why he or she pulled you over.
  • The officer must ask where you keep your license, insurance card and registration information to prevent misunderstandings when you reach for them.
  • You must provide the three identifying documents the officer requests.
  • You and your passengers must exit the vehicle if the officer requests that you do so.

If an officer asks you to get out of the car, he or she may suspect you have a weapon in the vehicle. For their own safety, police may ask you to wait outside the vehicle while writing the ticket. Additionally, if police suspect that you are involved in a crime or that you may have a weapon, they may frisk you. This is a tricky situation, since it is illegal for police to frisk you without a reasonable suspicion of criminal involvement or simply because of your race.

Are police out of line?

If police pull you over for a traffic violation, you do not have to give permission for a search of your car. Exceptions include when the officer is concerned for his or her safety or when drug-sniffing dogs alert on your vehicle. If officers do conduct a search, be prepared to describe the search to your attorney who will know if police violated your rights.

Additionally, if police place you in handcuffs, it does not necessarily mean you are under arrest. Again, officers may take this action for their own safety or for yours. However, excessive force is never acceptable. It is always wise to seek legal counsel whenever your encounter with police puts your rights or your future at risk.

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