Whether you are commuting to work or heading home after a get-together with friends, seeing the flashing lights of a police cruiser can be a stressful situation. Why are they pulling you over? Will you be treated fairly? What are your rights when you are stopped by the police?
You may be free to leave.
Officers cannot stop you unless they have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that you have committed a traffic offense, a crime or you are going to commit a crime. As the ACLU notes, you are free to ask officers if you are under arrest or if you are free to go. A traffic stop in New Jersey, should not be prolonged beyond the amount of time necessary to write a ticket, unless the police have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to do so.
You have the right to ask the officer to identify themselves.
Officers in New Jersey are required to provide their identification on request unless they are responding to an emergency situation.
You have the right to film your encounter.
Cell phones are becoming more and more common, and you or your passenger may film the traffic stop. However, as the New Jersey Department of Public Safety notes, you may need to set down your recording device in order to comply with the officer’s request to show your hands, provide identification or take a field sobriety test.
You are not required to allow the officer to investigate your vehicle.
Unless the officer has cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle, believes that the search is necessary to keep themselves safe or you have been arrested, police officers may not search your vehicle without consent or a warrant. You have the right to say to the police, “No, I do not give you permission or consent to search my vehicle.”
You have the right to remain silent.
While cooperating with the authorities can be the best way to avoid further legal trouble—running away and talking back could lead to an arrest—you have the right to be silent to avoid incriminating yourself. If you choose to speak, the police can use the things you say during a traffic stop against you.
You have the right to speak to an attorney.
When the police make an arrest, you have the right to legal counsel. A traffic stop is no different. This can be especially important if your rights have been violated. Your lawyer can help ensure that essential information is recorded and that a complaint is filed against the officer.