Saturday’s Question

Today’s question was submitted by Kevin. He asks:

If I get pulled over what are my rights as a driver? Do I have to let a cop search my car? What about admitting vs not admitting the violation?

Thank you for the question, Kevin. I’m sure there are a number of folks wondering the same thing. Your first question seems quite broad so I’ll try and answer as best I can. Technically, you are being detained…even for a minor infraction. You’re best bet is to do as instructed. If I tell you to stay put, stay put. If I tell you to get out of the car, get out of the car. You are required to provide me with your CDL, registration, and insurance. Other than that, you don’t really have to say much of anything.

Do you have to let an Officer search your car? Nope. That’s not to say we won’t. Probably about 99% of the cars and/or persons I ask to search, I’ve already developed some probable cause to search them. As any lawyer (cool your jets, NSDA) will tell you, if you can get consent, get it. I always articulate consent, probable cause, and combination of the two in my report. You can tell me to go fuck myself, but if I have probable cause, it doesn’t matter if you want me to search or not. Of course, if you do tell me that, be prepared to come back to one messy car.

As far as admitting the violation or not goes, I honestly could not care less. Your statement or lack thereof will be noted on my copy of the cite should I need to refer to it in the future. I don’t stop folks that I am not 100% sure have committed a violation. I won’t go to court on a guess. I’m not in for looking like a jackass in court. To be fair, though, your admitting the violation (within limits) significantly increases your chance of a warning….coupled with attitude, of course. I say within limits because if you’re driving 75 in a 30, you can bet you’ll get a ticket regardless of your honesty.

Thanks again, Kevin. I hope that cleared things up a bit for you!

Alright (literary license), we’re down to two more Saturdays worth of questions…if you’re enjoying this particular feature, shoot me some more!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

10 thoughts on “Saturday’s Question

  1. I've already developed some probable cause

    Ouch. Please never use that phrase in any courtroom.

    Probable cause exists or it does not. A police officer does not develop it. You either see (or smell etc.) that it exists or you don't. As a judge I know says, "it's like birdshit on the window — it's either there or it isn't, you can't imagine it's there."

    As well, it bears noting that even if the police officer articulates probable cause exists, the defendant may still move to suppress. If such motion is granted, all evidence obtained as a result of said search is inadmissible. Of course, if you have a brilliant prosecutor on your side, such nonsense rarely happens.

  2. Motor Cop, I am placing you on double secret probation and sending you back to FTO for a week.

    Once again, if you have probable cause you arrest. You only need reasonable suspicion to search. Your "reasonable suspicion" are the facts you articulate in your report and the motion to supress hearing which lead you to search.

    Like Ms. Prosecutor stated probable cause is there or it ain't!!

  3. Mere semantics. MC obviously meant that he's 'discovered' p.c. And if a cop ever DOES use that phrase in court, any supposedly brilliant prosecutor would be able to clarify that.

    And what exactly is a 'brilliant prosecutor'? I would call a prosecutor brilliant when s/he can take a case on flimsy evidence and convict a suspect that is known by all parties to be guilty. Of course, at least the county where I work in, the DA's office is 100% stat driven and they don't even file cases where we know the suspect did the crime but less than slam dunk evidence exists. They only file the case where they are 100% certain they will get a conviction, and they still end up losing some of those. The problem is that deputy DAs are evaluated only on their conviction rate, so they won't take on a worthwhile but somewhat risky case.

    I've seen prosecutor incompetence lose cases several times. That's not to say I haven't met and worked with deputy DAs that knew their stuff as well. It also goes both ways. If the cop writes an incomplete, lousy report, then you hamstring the DA. If the cop isn't well prepared for testimony, or testifies poorly, s/he makes the prosecutor's job much more difficult. In my opinion cops don't get nearly enough training in testimony. Some don't get any at all.

    Then even if you have a good DA, good evidence, and good witness testimony, there are a few judges that are idiots, who can throw a grenade on the entire case with an absurd ruling.

  4. I believe the 100% honesty will greatly help your efforts of getting a "warning". I, hanging my head low, was stopped the other day. New stop sign, never seen it before, last minute slowed, but rolled through it. To my amazment the pretty red and blues were behind me! I admitted to not coming to a full and complete stop, I was admonished and sent on my way! I told the truth and was ready for the cite. I got lucky and had a nice copper!

  5. Do you have to tell the person you stopped–or do we have the right to know–what your probably cause is?

  6. Booted-

    in my county, every case is evaluated on the merits, but another factor is inventory management. Our misdemeanor deputies individually handle 300 or so cases a year- that means they have to resolve better than 1 case every work day or fall behind.

    Every minute spent on one case means a minute not spent on another. So the traffic stop for racing that needs follow up investigation with witnesses at the scene means precious minutes not spent trying to coax a domestic violence witness into testifying or nailing down a minor dope case on a major gangster that will hopefully get search conditions and set up the gang's downfall.

    I personally decline to prosecute on less than 5% of the requests I get- I know the cops are busting their asses, so I generally take the attitude that if they went through the trouble to write it up, I need to find a way to make it happen. But its a sliding scale- I'm much more willing to work and develop a DV or dope case than a reckless or a speed contest.

    Our office is not focused on conviction rates. If a prosecutor can clearly lay out for the boss why the case fell apart, the boss usually stands by the prosecutor. I have personally been encouraged to take weak but important cases, even though the victorious outcome at trial is uncertain or even unlikely.

    One thing that I absolutely encourage cops to do is to communicate with me through their reports. For example, a 647(f) case (drunk in public) is an almost certain decline- I have way too much work to do to commit resources to getting some doofus drunk a conviction. But if the report mentions "this is the 5th 647(f)arrest for this suspect this month," I know the cop is telling me the suspect is a hardcore drunk that needs stay at the county inn to encourage his recovery.

    And I LOVE it when the cops call me direct to give me the lowdown on a case. Trying to make decisions based on reports is a drag. Hearing an enthusiastic cop that really wants to slam somebody helps me get fired up to do the extra work.

  7. Roanoak Cop,
    We are arguing semantics in the same ruling they also refer to probable cause for the warrantless search as "reasonable belief" and "reasonable cause".

    Thus to make it simple for us knuckle dragging cops..reasonable suspicion to search and probable cause to arrest.

  8. I think you should put the car back the way you found it in any roadside search (consentual or not) where you fail to find incriminating evidence. It seems like the only decent, Christian thing to do.

  9. Though I sit on the other side of the bar, I believe that statements made by vehicle occupants can tend to create probable cause on occasion. Thus, MC's comment about "developing" probable cause is accurate if one assumes he is referencing what happens after the stop during the interaction with the vehicle occupants.

  10. Booted & Roanoke…

    You guys saved me the trouble…thanks for saying what I was getting ready to!

    Mark#1…I can dig your point of view. Thanks for the addition.

    All in all, I think we're all on the same page and we are, in fact, talking semantics. What I post here is neither a police report nor meant as courtroom testimony, but rather a voice to air the frustrations that I can't include in the aforementioned documents/courtroom. No one needs to see W-Smith referred to as W-Head Up My Ass. Ya know?

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