Can the police order you out of your car? Can the police search your car?
“Steve Silverman, executive director of the nonprofit legal education organization Flex Your Rights, called [Officer] Encinia’s demand [Sandra Bland case] “technically legal but completely unnecessary”, and says that’s “largely a consequence of a bad 1977 supreme court ruling that few people have heard of”.
The case in question, Pennsylvania v Mimms, held that police can legally order stopped motorists out of their cars, describing the request as “at most, a mere inconvenience” which the court said “cannot prevail when balanced against legitimate concerns for the officer’s safety”.
Silverman said this ruling has “contributed to many unnecessary and avoidable escalations where police forcibly remove motorists from their vehicles simply because they talked back or were too afraid to exit”.
So if police ever order you out of your car, step out of the car.
While police generally need a warrant to search you or your property — during a traffic stop, police only need probable cause to legally search your vehicle. Probable cause means police must have some facts or evidence to believe you’re involved in criminal activity.
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Police may order the driver and any passengers out of the vehicle. If this happens, step out of the car. If they have reasonable suspicion to detain you, police may frisk the outside of your clothing to check for weapons, but only if they have a basis for suspecting you’re armed.
If police detain and frisk you, you have the right to clearly state your refusal to consent to the search. For example, you may say “Officer, I’m not resisting. I do not consent to this search.”But you should only verbally refuse. Never physically resist. Just touching an officer could get you tasered or beaten. You could also get a felony charge for assaulting a police officer.
Whether they frisk you or not, police may ask you a series of questions. They will probably include something like “You don’t mind if I have a look in your car?” Beware of that question: It’s the legal loophole that the officer wants to snare you in. (It might even sound like a command, but it’s technically a request.)
In response to such request, you may politely decline by saying “Officer, I know you’re just doing your job, but I don’t consent to searches.” Some officers may use their authority to make you feel obligated to prove your innocence by asking “What do you have to hide?” Don’t fall for such tricks. If necessary, repeat your refusal.
Remember: The 4th Amendment protects your right to refuse search requests, but it doesn’t require police to tell you about your right to refuse. In fact, consenting to searches automatically makes them legal in the eyes of the law. So if you’re pulled over, don’t try to figure out whether or not the officer has probable cause to legally search you. You always have the right to refuse searches.
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Unless you’re detained or arrested, you may terminate the encounter anytime. But don’t wait for the officer to dismiss you. Ask if you’re free to go.
For example, if an officer threatens to call in a K-9 unit if you refuse a search, you should ask“Officer, are you detaining me, or am I free to go?”
Not only can this line can help withdraw you from an encounter, it also deflects any of the officer’s probing questions or threats. So if an officer says “If you cooperate with me, everything will go easy for you.” You may respond by saying either “Officer, I don’t consent to any searches” or “Officer, am I free to go?”
If the officer lets you leave, do so immediately. If the officer’s answer is unclear, or if he asks additional questions, persist by repeating “Officer, am I free to go?” …”
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The Fastest way through a CPB checkpoint? Watch this guy do his thing.