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What can police officers legally do after pulling you over?

No one wants to be pulled over by the police, even if it's for a "routine" infraction like speeding or having a brake light out. However, what if the stop goes beyond being given a citation or a warning? What are your rights and obligations when dealing with a police officer if you're pulled over or stopped at a checkpoint?

This time of year, checkpoints and roadblocks are more common as a way to help keep drunk drivers off the road. These are legal as long as law enforcement officers are either stopping vehicles randomly or stopping each one.

When directed to stop, you need to comply. Don't give officers any reason to feel they are at risk. Keep your hands on the steering wheel where the officers can see them. Don't reach for anything, including license, registration or identification, until directed to do so.

The question of if and when an officer can search your vehicle is a common one. In general, law enforcement officers can search a vehicle they have pulled over. Generally, they will first ask for your consent to a search. If you have nothing illegal in your vehicle, such as drugs, it's best to provide your consent. Officers may also search a vehicle if they have a reasonable suspicion that there is something illegal or dangerous inside.

If you are arrested and your car is towed and impounded, law enforcement officers can search all parts of the vehicle. They have to inventory everything in the vehicle. Therefore, in most cases, the car isn't impounded in order to search it.

If you were arrested following a traffic stop and you believe that your rights were violated, it's essential to let your attorney know. If evidence was not acquired legally, your attorney may be able to get it thrown out so that it cannot be used against you.

Source: FindLaw, "Police Traffic Stops and Vehicle Searches: FAQs," accessed Dec. 15, 2015

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