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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article we explain your rights if you are pulled over for a traffic stop in Illinois.  We discuss when the police are permitted to pull you over, your right to remain silent in a traffic stop, your right to refuse consent to the search of your vehicle, what constitutes probable cause for the search of your vehicle, and what to do if detained or arrested during a traffic stop.  

When are the Police Allowed to Pull You Over for a Traffic Stop?

When are the Police Allowed to Pull You Over for a Traffic Stop?

The 4th Amendment prevents the police from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures.  A traffic stop qualifies as a “seizure” within the context of the 4th Amendment.  Therefore, the police are prohibited by the 4th Amendment from conducting a traffic stop without “specific and articulable facts” that give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  Violations of traffic laws or erratic driving can provide such reasonable suspicion so as to permit the police to pull you over without violating your 4th Amendment rights.  

Do I Have to Answer Questions During a Traffic Stop?

If you are pulled over for a traffic stop, you must provide the police officer with your driver’s license, proof of insurance and registration if the officer requests it.  However, you are not required to answer any questions that the police officer asks you.  Due to the 5th Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, you don’t have to answer questions like “do you know how fast you were going?” or “where are you headed?”  However, rather than boldly asserting your rights, it is usually best to politely and calmly refuse to answer so as not to escalate the situation.  Refusal to answer questions is not an admission of guilt.

The Right to Refuse Consent to a Search of Your Vehicle

A police officer may perform a search of your vehicle without a warrant if he or she has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed.  However, absent probable cause, the police do not have the right to search your vehicle unless you consent to the search.  Evidence that a police officer finds through a warrantless search based on probable cause will be easier for your attorney to exclude from the court’s consideration than evidence found by the police after you have consented to a search of your vehicle.  Refusal of consent to search your vehicle is not an admission of guilt.

What Constitutes Probable Cause For Police to Search Your Vehicle?

In order to have probable cause to search your vehicle, the police officer must have observed something that has led him or her to reasonably believe that a crime has been committed.  This may include things like the smell of marijuana or alcohol, seeing drugs in the vehicle through the window, or an admission of guilt by someone in the car.  

Minor traffic violations such as speeding or a broken tail light do not give rise to probable cause.  

What are the Rights of Passengers During a Traffic Stop?

What are the Rights of Passengers During a Traffic Stop?

Passengers in a car that has been pulled over by the police are not legally responsible for the driver’s violation of the law.  The general rule is that passengers are free to leave during a traffic stop unless, based on the passenger’s behavior or other circumstances, the police develop probable cause to suspect that the passenger has committed a crime.  The police officer may ask the passengers to step out of the car and may question each passenger separately.  In this case, differing answers may give rise to probable cause for search of the vehicle or detention of the passengers.  

For more on this, check out our article: Passenger Rights in a Traffic Stop in Illinois.

Can the Police Frisk You in a Traffic Stop?

The police can order you to step out of your vehicle.  The police can frisk the outside of your clothing if they have probable cause to believe you are carrying a weapon.  If the police frisk you, you have the right to refuse consent to the search.  You should verbally refuse rather than physically resisting the search.  A verbal refusal may give your attorney the ability to have the court throw out any evidence that the police find as a result of the search if the court determines that the officer did not have probable cause to search you.  

When Are You Free to Leave a Traffic Stop?

Unless the officers choose to detain or arrest you based on probable cause that a crime has committed, you have the right to leave at any time.  However, rather than fleeing the scene, you should ask the officer if you are being detained or if you are free to go.  

What To Do if You Are Detained or Arrested During a Traffic Stop

If you are detained or arrested during a traffic stop, you have the right to an attorney.  You should immediately inform the officer that you would like to speak to an attorney and that you intend to remain silent until you have spoken with counsel.  For more information on this topic, check out our article: What Rights Do I Have If I'm Arrested In Illinois?

You may also want to check out our article: What to Do if You are Pulled Over for a DUI in Illinois.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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