Pulled Over by Police?

What are the Police Allowed to do if They Pull Me Over?

What Maryland and federal laws permit police to do if they pull you over depends in part on their motivation.

The Police Pull you Over on Suspicion of Driving Drunk

If the police pull you over because they think you may be driving while intoxicated or driving under the influence, they are allowed to ask:

  • Basic questions, such as who are you and where are you going
  • Questions about the suspected crime, such as what were you drinking and how much did you drink
  • That you get out of your car
  • That you perform field sobriety tests, such as walking heel-to-toe or standing on one leg
  • That you submit to a preliminary breath test

You are required to answer basic questions and questions about alcohol consumption. Do not get out of your car unless and until the police officer asks you. You do not have to perform field sobriety tests or preliminary breath tests. Those tests are just a way for police officers to gather evidence before arresting you, and they are not required to inform you of your right to refuse.

The Police Pull You Over for Some Other Traffic Violation

The Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to permit so-called pretextual traffic stops, meaning that police can use a minor traffic violation—like a broken brake light or not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign—to pull you over and then use the stop to gather evidence or information about some other suspected crime. The police do not have to inform you of your Miranda rights unless they arrest you. During a traffic stop, you are not required to answer questions beyond those necessary to establish your identity and questions related to the reason for the stop.

If the police want to search your car without a court-issued warrant, they have to ask your permission. You are allowed to say no. If the police officer searches your car despite your refusal, courts may prevent any evidence found during this search from being introduced against you.

One of the exceptions to this rule is the plain view doctrine. Police officers may seize evidence found in plain view during lawful observation. In other words, if you have an open beer can, an identifiable drug, or a gun where the police officer can see it when he pulls you over, he may seize it as evidence without your permission or a warrant.

Arrested After a Traffic Stop? Contact an Attorney Right Away.

Hartel, DeSantis & Howie LLP is a Hanover area law firm with attorneys specializing in defending DWI and DUI cases in Maryland. Contact an experienced drunk driving lawyer as soon as possible after a traffic stop and arrest to minimize fines, jail time, and other penalties.

By Michael A. DeSantis | Published September 5, 2012