Do I Have the Right to Remain Silent During a Traffic Stop?

“You have the right to remain silent,” is more than a popular phrase from TV shows. During police encounters, it’s a right that’s protected by the U.S. Constitution.

This right pertains no matter where you are: on foot, in a public place, or in a vehicle. However, some unique scenarios arise during traffic stops that the public should be aware of.

Understanding Police Encounters

To better understand your right to remain silent during a traffic stop, it’s helpful to know the three types of encounters the public may have with the police:

  1. Voluntary Encounters. One example of a voluntary encounter would be if a police officer walked up to you in a public place and started a conversation.
  2. Investigatory Stops. These are also called “Terry stops,” named after a famous legal case. Police can briefly stop and question you if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are, were, or will be involved in a crime. In some cases, it can be difficult to know if you’re involved in a voluntary encounter or an investigatory stop. Ask the police, “Am I free to go?” If you are, then it’s voluntary. If you’re not free to go, it’s investigatory.
  3. An Arrest. An arrest is being taken into police custody.

In any police encounter, you have the right not to answer questions. In Minnesota, you cannot be arrested just for refusing to answer questions. However, that does not mean that you won’t be arrested for other reasons.

Police Encounters During Traffic Stops

During a traffic stop, the police’s first request is likely to ask the driver for their license and proof of insurance. If you are the driver, you are obligated by law to provide that information. You have the right to refuse to answer any further questions. You also have the right to ask for an attorney to be present before answering any more questions.

There’s an infinite number of reasons the police may pull you over. It could be as simple as your brakes lights are out. You may have passed through a sobriety checkpoint. Maybe your vehicle matches the description of one used in a recent robbery. You have to use your best judgment when answering questions during a traffic stop.

At any point during a traffic stop, you can ask the police, “Am I free to go?” If the police state that you are not, then you are involved in an investigatory stop.

Warrantless Searches of a Vehicle

During a traffic stop, the police could ask you if they can search your vehicle. You may verbally object to this search. In some circumstances, they can proceed with the search without a warrant, and despite your objection. But it’s still important that if you object to the search, you state that. Voicing your refusal could help your case later on.

Tips for Interacting with the Police During Traffic Stops

It can be unnerving to be pulled over by the police. However, you should keep these tips in mind:

  • If you refuse to answer questions, do so firmly but politely.
  • Don’t drive away unless the police have explicitly told you that you are free to go.
  • If you are arrested, cooperate with the police. Don’t answer any questions. Ask to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.

Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney

If you were arrested as the result of a traffic stop, we can provide you with experienced legal representation. Please contact us today for a consultation.

Our law firm understands that an arrest can happen at any time. Anderson Law Firm, PLLC, is available 24-hour hours a day. For immediate needs, please call us directly at (952)582-2904.


DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Please contact attorney Kirk Anderson for an initial consultation.