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Your Rights When Stopped by Police in North Carolina

By Randall & Stump excels in criminal defense, serving clients in Charlotte, NC & other surrounding cities.
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Category Criminal Defense, Right to Remain Silent
Saturday, May 21, 2022

Two police officers talking to a man on the sidewalk

You see red and blue lights flash in your rearview mirror, and your heart starts beating faster. You know the police are pulling you over. Even if you didn’t do anything wrong, being anxious is normal. Help your fears subside by knowing your rights when police stop you in North Carolina.

What Are Your Rights When Stopped?

You may not know what to do when you’re stopped by law enforcement. You may wonder if you must do everything the officer says and answer all of their questions. While you should always be polite, you do not have to do anything that might incriminate yourself. You have rights.

If a police officer stops you, you have a right to:

  • Remain silent – Beyond answering basic identifying information, make sure you express verbally that you wish to remain silent and won’t answer any questions until you get legal assistance.
  • Refuse consent to search your person and car – If the police officer asks to search you, you can refuse. They can only violate that consent in limited circumstances, such as if the officer has probable cause to believe your car contains evidence of a crime.
  • Ask if you are free to leave – If an officer tells you to remain in a location, you can ask if you are under arrest or free to leave. If you are not under arrest, leave calmly.
  • A lawyer if you are arrested – If the police arrest you or interrogate you with questions, you have a right to legal representation before making any statements.

These rights are tied to the U.S. Constitution. You have these rights regardless of your immigration or citizenship status. If the police violate your rights, immediately inform your criminal defense lawyer.

What Are Your Responsibilities?

You also have several responsibilities at a traffic stop when stopped by a police officer. Simply using the roadways that are paid for by tax dollars, obtaining a driver’s license in North Carolina, and registering your vehicle activates those responsibilities.

Some of your responsibilities include:

  • Remaining calm and polite – You should use manners and treat the police officer like any other person you meet.
  • Not interfering with or obstructing the police – If a police officer is asking someone else questions or arresting another person, you should stay out of the way.
  • Not lying or giving false documents – Do not falsify any information you provide to the police officer, including your ID, registration, and other documentation.
  • Giving the officer only necessary documents – In North Carolina, when an officer pulls you over, you must provide them with your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of car insurance.
  • Consenting to a drug and alcohol test – If an officer reasonably suspects you are impaired while driving in North Carolina, you have agreed to take a drug or alcohol test. If you refuse, you face the consequences, such as license suspension.
  • Remembering the details of your encounter – If your rights are violated, you must remember exactly what happened and contact an attorney to get help.

What to Do If Police Are Violating Your Rights

You should remain calm if you feel the police are violating your rights. Do not resist or make any threats. Police misconduct can be challenged later, including any evidence they obtain from an illegal search and seizure or invalid arrest.

You should write down everything you remember as quickly as possible. Contact a criminal defense attorney to help you file a written complaint against the officer and law enforcement agency that violated your rights.

What to Do When Stopped in Your Car

If you see a police officer flash their lights behind you while you are driving, stop your car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn your car off, open your window, and place your hands on the wheel in plain view.

When the officer requests your documents, ask them to reach for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. Calmly tell them where those items are located and tell them you will be reaching for them in those locations.

You can politely refuse if the officer asks to search you or your car. The officer will likely look into your windows and try to see anything suspicious in plain view. They may search it without your consent if they believe your car contains evidence of a crime.

You and your passengers should remain silent and not answer any questions. The officer might ask what you have been doing or where you are going. You should simply tell them you want to remain silent. If you are a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave.

What to Do When Stopped on Foot

If a police officer stops you while you are walking, remain calm. Do not run or resist the interaction. Keep your hands where the police can see them at all times.

Ask the officer if you are free to leave. If so, then slowly walk away. If you are under arrest, you have a right to know why.

Tell the police officer that you wish to remain silent and don’t want to answer any questions. You may be asked to identify yourself. You do not have to say anything else.

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney If You Are Arrested

If you are arrested after being stopped by police in North Carolina, you should immediately contact a lawyer who can ensure your rights are protected. The police often violate Constitutional rights. In some circumstances, any evidence they find may be excluded from any case brought against you.

Randal & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys has a team of legal professionals ready to work on your case. Call us today at 980-237-4579 or use our online contact form to reach out.