Virtually everyone wants to avoid being pulled over by the police, much less arrested at a traffic stop. Traffic stops are stressful, not only due to the fear of receiving an expensive traffic ticket and potentially being forced to appear in court, but also because you run the risk of an officer suspecting more than just a simple motor vehicle violation. In fact, facing criminal charges after a cop pulls you over for something like speeding, improper turn, or unsafe lane change is among the most common reasons why people get arrested in New Jersey. With this in mind, it is vital to know your rights at a traffic stop and know how to protect them. Here is some basic guidance about how to handle being pulled over and a few tips that you can use to prevent being arrested, if possible.
Our criminal defense lawyers are here to discuss your case free of charge if you already dealing with criminal charges from a traffic stop in Roselle, Rahway, Cranford, Springfield, Mountainside, Union Twp, or elsewhere in New Jersey. If you choose to enlist our help with your defense, we will meticulously examine the evidence against you to identify whether your rights have been violated – a strategy we often use to get clients’ charges dismissed. Contact us via our contact page, message us, or call our local offices in Union County at (908) 838-0150 for a free consultation now.
Police Have to a Valid Reason for a Traffic Stop in NJ
Officers are permitted to make routine traffic stops if they observe a violation of New Jersey traffic laws, regardless of whether that traffic violation was minor, like driving with a broken light or mirror, or severe, such as weaving across lanes, leaving the scene of an accident, causing a traffic collision, or reckless driving. Police also have significant leeway in initiating a traffic stop based on a perceived traffic violation, even if an officer is wrong about the violation. This often applies in cases involving suspected DWI. For example, an officer can stop your car if he or she thinks you were speeding, following too closely to another vehicle, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). This is true regardless of whether the officer was in fact mistaken and you were doing none of those things. Courts will typically consider the traffic stop to have been lawful if a reasonable officer faced with the same facts could have reasonably believed that a traffic violation had occurred.
If You are Pulled over in New Jersey, You Have Rights
An officer has a right to question the driver of a vehicle about the traffic offense that they believe they have observed. They may also ask you to produce your vehicle registration, driver’s license, and proof of insurance. An officer may also run a search using their radio or vehicle’s computer to determine if the car you are driving has been stolen or if you are driving with a suspended license.
Do I Have to Answer an Officer’s Questions?
The officer who stopped you may also lawfully request that you exit your vehicle, particularly if he or she has noted signs that you may be driving while intoxicated or on drugs. They can also ask you to step back to their squad car to answer additional questions. Note, however, that although the law requires you to produce a license, registration, and proof of insurance on request and to exit your vehicle, you are not required to answer questions that are unrelated to the traffic stop.
Police will often ask additional questions to determine if you are engaging in other illegal activity – you do not have to answer them. If an officer asks whether you ever use or transport illegal drugs or firearms, for example, you would be within your rights to decline to answer that question or remain silent. Although taking that course of action may feel awkward or may make the officer more suspicious, trying to explain or just tell the officer the truth may also walk you into trouble.
Can an Officer Search my Car during a Stop?
An officer might ask you if they can have permission to search your car’s passenger compartment or trunk. You are not legally required to give consent to a search. Police cannot search your car without probable cause to believe that it contains evidence of a crime or that a crime has occurred. For example, if an officer sees evidence of drug usage or transportation or notices a firearm or ammunition, they have an alternative legal basis to search your car. If you do consent to an officer searching your car, they can generally assume that your consent gives them the right to search closed containers in the car like your bag, your passenger’s bag or bags, and other items in the passenger compartment.
Why Hire a Lawyer if You Have been Arrested at a Motor Vehicle Stop in Union County NJ
Traffic stops commonly turn into arrests in New Jersey if officers find guns or drugs in your car after they have pulled you over for speeding or violating some other traffic law. If the officer approached your vehicle and saw additional evidence that lead them to search the car, there is little you can do to avoid being arrested. Traffic stops also routinely lead to arrest if officers pull you over and smell the odor of an alcohol beverage on your breath or identify drug paraphernalia in plain view in your car.
Nevertheless, if an officer exceeds their authority to search your vehicle or fails to identify a reasonable basis for initiating the traffic stop in the first place, you may be able to move to exclude any evidence found during the stop when facing charges in court. This can be a highly effective approach to defending your case, but it requires skill and experience on the part of your attorney. Our lawyers use this technique to get charges dismissed on behalf of clients charged with cocaine possession, prescription drugs, intent to sell heroin, unlawful possession of a weapon, and beyond on a regular basis. For more information and to find out how we can assist with your criminal case, call (908) 838-0150 anytime. We provide free consultations and our phones are answered 24/7.