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Kevin O'Flaherty

In Wisconsin, during a traffic stop, you have constitutional rights including protection from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment and the right not to self-incriminate under the Fifth Amendment, meaning officers cannot search your vehicle without a warrant or your consent, and you are not obligated to answer self-incriminating questions.

This article clarifies the protections afforded to you under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments during such encounters, detailing when and how you can exercise these rights to ensure your interactions with law enforcement are fair and respectful. By the end of this article you should better understand what your constitutional rights are when you are pulled over, what you say when you are pulled over in Wisconsin, what an officer may tell you when being pulled over, and do's and don'ts when being pulled over in Wisconsin.

What are my constitutional rights when pulled over in a traffic stop?

The best place to start off is the Fourth Amendment. The federal constitution protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure. This is a protection against warrantless seizures of a person or their belongings. If you are pulled over in Wisconsin for a traffic stop, that officer is committing a warrantless seizure. The stop may be considered unreasonable unless the officer pulling you over, witnessed a criminal act. Wisconsin’s State constitution has adopted similar protections. The Fourth Amendment does not stop protecting you there but also during the stop.  

Just because you were pulled over for a traffic violation in Wisconsin, does not give the officers the right to search your vehicle without a warrant. A Legally justifiable stop does not give the officers a free pass on your consent. If an officer obtains evidence pursuant to an illegal search, that evidence must be thrown out by the court and is considered to be “fruit of the forbidden tree.” Any evidence stemming from that search would be tainted.  

The Fifth Amendment also plays a role once you have been stopped. You have a constitutional right to not self-incriminate. This is potentially one of the greatest tools you have at your disposal. It should be used almost immediately when the stop takes place.

Does an Officer have to tell you why you are being pulled over?

No but this is a loaded question. There is no legal obligation for the officer to tell you why you are being pulled over. If the officer made a stop based on probable cause the court could uphold the stop to be justifiable even if the officer turned out to be wrong. The officer could even lie to you about why you got pulled over depending on the circumstances.

What do you say when you are pulled over in Wisconsin?

When you are pulled over, one of the first questions you will hear from the officer is, “do you know why you are being stopped?” The answer to this question is always “No.” The officer will then begin to ask you some identifying questions. If he is asking for your name, you should comply. Now if the officer asks you anything you do not understand, you should ask for clarification. At all times though you should keep in mind that silence is gold. You do not have to answer any of the officers’ questions regarding the stop because it is your Fifth Amendment right.

Your best chance fighting an illegal stop is in court, however, there are certain instances when you may want to call something to the officer’s attention. For instance, if the officer informed you that you were being pulled over for a stop sign violation, yet you have been waiting at the stop for 45 minutes or more, you can and should ask the officer if you are free to leave. The fourth amendment protects you from unreasonable seizures and if the stop is taking longer than it should for the crime observed, the seizure becomes less reasonable by the minute.

What are some Do’s and Don’ts when pulled over in Wisconsin?

  • Do slow down and pull over to the right shoulder of the road when you see the officer’s lights. Everyone’s safety should be considered during a traffic stop, so be aware of where you are stopping.  
  • Don’t speed up or instantly attempt to stop. The officer’s could take this as an indication in their report of erratic driving.  
  • Do use your turn signal and even your hazard lights to indicate your intentions. The last thing you want to do is give the officers more reasons to give you a ticket. Your turn signal should be used when pulling over and pulling out.
  • Don’t answer questions you don’t know the answer to. If you do not understand what the officer is asking you, simply state you do not know or ask for clarification. Do not simply answer yes or no unless you know. Even when you know remember the fifth amendment.
  • Do keep your seat belt on. The last thing you need to do is get a ticket for not wearing your seat belt when you were. If you must remove your seat belt to reach for something, first inform the officer of what you are doing.
  • Don’t reach under your seat or for the glove box. If the police officer pulling you over witnesses you rushing to reach under your car or another part of the vehicle, you could be giving them reasonable articulable suspicion to search your vehicle.
  • Do ask if you are free to leave. If the stop reaches the point where you feel like you should be let go, you have the right to ask if you are “free to leave or if you are being detained.” The officers will have to give you an answer.
  • Don’t fight the stop on the road. On the road you are going to be outnumbered and under heavy stress. The officers will likely feel the same way. They are trained to control the situation on the road and you are not. Your best chance at fighting the stop and getting justice will be in Court.

By hiring our firm, you are hiring attorneys that will fight for you. We know the law and are familiar with the issues. If you have any questions, please give us a call at 630-324-6666 to get in touch with one of our criminal defense attorneys.

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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