Legal Reference

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We are not lawyers.  We are not your lawyers.  The information presented below is not legal advice and may not present the latest information on a given topic.

Traffic Stops

Driver's Rights

In the 1977 case Pennsylvania v. Mimms, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, during a lawful traffic stop, officers can order the driver of a vehicle to exit the vehicle and pat them down for weapons. The ruling was based on the officer's safety, either due to a possible threat from the occupants or from nearby surroundings (e.g. passing traffic).[1]

In the 1979 case Delaware v. Prouse, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the police can not randomly stop vehicles to check the driver's license and registration without reasonable suspicion of a crime, but they may create systems that remove the "unconstrained exercise of discretion" by officers, e.g. stopping every vehicle at a checkpoint.[2]

In the 1990 case Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that DUI/DWI sobriety checkpoints are allowed under the Fourth Amendment as they are a brief stop that promotes the State's interest.[3]

Some states require officers to provide a reason for the stop. If you know of other states or departments that do this, please send them in.

The ability of officers to identify drivers during traffic stops is managed by the states. In general, a driver must provide identification when stopped for a vehicle code infraction.

Passengers' Rights

Since a passenger is not the subject of the investigation, it is not necessary for a passenger to identify themselves during a traffic stop. See Identification, below.

In the 1997 case Maryland v. Wilson, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, during a lawful traffic stop, passengers can also be ordered to exit a vehicle.[4] New Jersey requires a "heightened standard" before removing a passenger from a vehicle.[5]

In the 2007 case Brendlin v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, during a traffic stop, the passenger is considered to be detained. While it means that the passenger may not be free to leave, it does give the passenger the standing to challenge the legitimacy of the traffic stop.[6][7]

In the 2009 case Arizona v. Johnson, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers may patdown a passenger during a traffic stop if they "harbor reasonable suspicion that the person subjected to the frisk is armed and dangerous".[8]

Extension of the Traffic Stop

In the 2015 case Rodriguez v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that officers need to have have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be present to extend a traffic stop after the initial concern has been handled.[9]

Non-Traffic Stops

Identification

In the 1979 case Brown v. Texas[10] and the 2004 case Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial Dist. Court of Nev.[11] , the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could require identification when there was reasonable suspicion of criminal involvement. You'll see this requirement in most state laws, below. Indiana requires identification without reasonable suspicion.

Some states have laws to cover specific situations:

Some cities have their own laws:

All Encounters

Stop and Frisk

In the 1968 case Terry v. Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that officers may stop and frisk (as contrasted with seize and search) people when they have reasonable suspicion that "criminal activity may be afoot".[12][13]

Refusing to Answer

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution recognizes the peoples' right to not incriminate themselves. While this can be important in a courthouse, it can also be important in other encounters. If an officer stops you and asks where you're coming from (etc.), they're attempting to gather evidence or probable cause to use against you.

In the 2013 case Salinas v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people must assert their right to silence during an interview, and just being silent was not enough and could even be used against them in court.[14][15]

Filming the Police

The U.S. Supreme Court has not heard a case on the right to film the police, though they did support "a free flow of information to the people concerning public officials".[16]

Most U.S. Circuit Courts have ruled that filming the police in the performance of their duties is protected by the First Amendment:

Jurisdiction States Reference
First Circuit Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island Glik v. Cunniffe, No. 10-1764 (1st Cir. 2011) Gericke v. Begin, No. 12-2326 (1st Cir. 2014)
Second Circuit Connecticut, New York, Vermont no Circuit ruling
Third Circuit Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virgin Islands Fields v. City of Philadelphia, No. 16-1650 (3d Cir. 2017)
Fourth Circuit Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia no Circuit ruling
Fifth Circuit Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas Turner v. Driver, No. 16-10312 (5th Cir. 2017)
Sixth Circuit Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee no Circuit ruling
Seventh Circuit Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin Am. Civil Liberties Union of IL v. Alvarez, No. 11-1286 (7th Cir. 2012)
Eighth Circuit Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, South Dakota no Circuit ruling
Ninth Circuit Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Mariana Islands, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington Fordyce v. City of Seattle, 840 F. Supp. 784 (W.D. Wash. 1993)
Tenth Circuit Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming Irizarry v. Yehia, No. 21-1247 (10th Cir. 2022)
Eleventh Circuit Alabama, Florida, Georgia Toole v. City of Atlanta Smith v. City of Cumming, 212 F.3d 1332 (11th Cir. 2000)
DC Circuit Washington DC
Federal Circuit Hears certain appeals

Some states have enacted limitations on recording the police, while some have broadened them, including:

  • AZ - trying to require more than 8' distance without an officer's permission HB2319
  • CA - Bane Act prevents officers from interfering with your rights; 148(g) clarifies that recording police is not suspicious or obstruction.
  • IN - HEA 1186 requires people to stay at least 25 feet away from officers once they have been told to do so.

References

  1. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977), U.S. Supreme Court, 1977-12-05
  2. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979), U.S. Supreme Court, 1979-03-27
  3. Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, 496 U.S. 444 (1990), U.S. Supreme Court, 1990-06-14
  4. Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997), U.S. Supreme Court, 1997-02-19
  5. New Jersey v. Bacome, Supreme Court of New Jersey, 2017-01-31
  6. Brendlin v. California, 551 U.S. 249 (2007), U.S. Supreme Court, 2007-06-18
  7. Facts and Case Summary - Brendlin v. California, United States Courts
  8. Arizona v. Johnson, Supreme Court of the United State
  9. Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. ___ (2015), U.S. Supreme Court, 2015-04-21
  10. Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47 (1979), U.S. Supreme Court, 1979-06-25
  11. Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial Dist. Court of Nev., Humboldt Cty., 542 U.S. 177 (2004), U.S. Supreme Court, 2004-06-21
  12. TERRY v. OHIO, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), U.S. Supreme Court, 1968-06-10
  13. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), U.S. Supreme Court, 1968-06-10
  14. Salinas v. Texas, 570 U.S. 178 (2013), U.S. Supreme Court, 2013-06-17
  15. People v. Tom, U.S. Supreme Court, 2014-08-14
  16. Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64 (1964), U.S. Supreme Court, 1953-11-12