Traffic stops by police are the most common way that many people interact with law enforcement. In Illinois alone there are over two million traffic stops per year, according to a report released by the Illinois Department of Transportation. The common nature of these traffic stops means that it is important for people to understand what their traffic stop rights are, as well as what qualifies as a justifiable stop.
A Person’s Rights During a Traffic Stop
The two most important rights that people have during traffic stops are the right to remain silent and the right to refuse to consent to a search of their vehicle. The right to remain silent allows a person to refuse to answer questions the officer poses, such as, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” or “Where were you heading tonight?” However, there is a practical component to this right. Cooperation with the officer can make the traffic stop smoother and more painless, so the extent to which a person benefits from exercising this right may vary. Furthermore, the right does not extend to refusing to supply a driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration if the officer asks for it.
The right not to consent to a search of the vehicle is another important right that arises commonly during traffic stops. Though police may ask for permission to search the vehicle, a driver is not required to give it. Importantly, this may not stop them from searching the car. If the police believe that they have probable cause to search the vehicle, then they can perform a warrantless search. However, it is easier to exclude evidence from the legal process if the police found it in a warrantless search, rather than in a search to which the person consented.
The right to refuse a search also has interesting implications for breathalyzer testing. Illinois has something known as an “implied consent law,” which basically states that a person automatically consents to DUI testing based on probable cause as a condition of receiving their license. While a person could still refuse a test, this would result in a suspension of their license for at least one year, and it may not actually help prevent a DUI conviction.
Justifiable Traffic Stops
Even before the traffic stop actually occurs, people’s constitutional rights come into play. This is because a traffic stop qualifies as seizure, which means that Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure apply. Consequently, the police may not stop a person without “specific and articulable facts” that give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. These facts can be things like traffic violations, missing license plates, or erratic behavior. Even anonymous tips called into the police can qualify in certain circumstances.
If you are facing criminal charges following a traffic stop, contact an experienced Illinois criminal defense lawyer today. We help accused citizens in town across the northwest suburbs, including in Rolling Meadows, Buffalo Grove, and Des Plaines.
About the Author: Founding partner of Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, LLC, Colin Gilbert, received his J.D. from Chicago-Kent College of law in 2005. Colin argues cases across many practice areas including criminal defense, collections, civil litigation, real estate law, and corporate law. Colin is an active member of the Board of Governors of the Northwest Suburban Bar Association and the Illinois Creditors Bar Association. He is currently Vice President of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce, and is a Commissioner for the Village of Arlington Heights. Colin has a 10.0 Attorney rating on Avvo, and was named one of the 2014 “Top 40 Under 40” Trial Lawyers in Illinois by the National Trial Lawyers Association.