People often ask me, “what should I do when I am pulled over by the police?”. The simple answer is; be cooperative and polite and the encounter should end rather smoothly. However, there are things that happen during a traffic stop that trigger your rights under the United States and Minnesota constitutions.
Let’s be honest here; police officers can get bored. Some police officers enjoy the power they have, and like to exercise it. Consequently, I have seen countless cases where a rather mundane traffic stop turns into a full blown confrontation, complete with the driver sitting in the back of a squad car while the officer rummages through the vehicle. And worst of all, you are usually in a position where you can see the officer searching your belongings. If there is nothing to find, obviously you are simply being detained while any suspicion is alleviated. However, if your vehicle contains any contraband, then you will be doing more than temporarily sitting in the back of a squad car.
So, how do you avoid being asked to sit in the back of a squad car, or detained longer than necessary for the cop to issue you a citation?
Unless an officer has probable to believe your vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime, he or she cannot search the vehicle without either a warrant or your consent. Often times, an officer will say something like, “as long as I’m here, do you have anything in your car I should know about?” or “can I search your car while we’re sitting here?”. Your answer to both questions: “NO!!!!”. You do not have to consent to a search, no matter what the officer says or how many times he says it. You have a Fourth Amendment right to say “no”, and you must exercise it.
What if an officer decides to call out a “drug dog” and walk it around your vehicle, waiting for it to “hit” on something? Well, there is nothing you can do about this behavior at the time. However, if you are charged with a crime because of the dog sniff, which then resulted in a search, then you have an issue. An officer cannot walk a dog around a vehicle without a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that the vehicle contains contraband. In other words, an officer can’t simply bring out the dog because he wants to, or because he’s bored, or is curious about what might be found. The officer must be able to articulate a specific reason that he became suspicious and why he believed a search might corroborate those suspicions.
In short, when stopped by the police, be cooperative and polite. However, never consent to a search of yiour vehicle, whether you have something to hide or not.