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Your Rights During a Police Stop in Georgia

Explore your legal rights during a police stop in Georgia with The Waltman Firm’s comprehensive guide. Understand your protections and obligations for peace of mind.

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Navigating Your Rights During a Police Stop in Georgia

A police stop can be scary and stressful. During police stops, you may wonder what you should say or not say to avoid an arrest. It’s important to know what you can and can’t do during a traffic stop for your and the officer’s safety.

The Waltman Firm has significant experience in the criminal defense of persons arrested during traffic or DUI stops. This guide is provided to outline your rights during a traffic or DUI stop and advise you on what to do if you feel your rights have been violated.

Understanding Your Basic Rights

The Constitution grants every U.S. citizen certain fundamental rights as follows:

  1. The Right to Remain Silent: The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to stay silent. While the police may require you to tell them your name, they do not have the right to question you further if you choose to remain silent. If you wish to exercise your right to stay silent, you should inform the police officer and request to speak with an attorney. 
  2. The Right to refuse consent to a search without a warrant: The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects your right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The police can’t search you or your possessions if you aren’t under arrest or they lack a valid warrant.
  3. The right to be informed of why you are being stopped: You can ask the police why you’re being stopped. You can inquire whether you are free to leave if you are not under arrest. If the officer has no valid reason to detain you, you may be within your rights to leave the scene.
  4. The right to an attorney: You have the right to seek legal representation and should be allowed to call a lawyer immediately after your arrest. The police cannot listen to the phone call with your lawyer.
  5. The Notice of Rights: Known as “Miranda rights,” police officers are required to inform you of your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney before being questioned, arrested, or taken into custody because any statements you make are admissible in court.

The Role of Consent in Police Interactions

Consent, by definition, is giving permission for something to happen or for someone to do something.

  • Express consent is consent given directly. For exampleif you don’t consent to an unwarranted search, and the police do it anyway, anything the police find may be dismissed.
  • Implied consent is a consent that actions, inaction, or silence can infer. For example, if you drive on Georgia roads, you have implicitly consented to a breathalyzer test if requested by an officer. If you refuse a breathalyzer, you can have your license suspended in Georgia.

Your Obligations During a Police Stop

  • Compliance with Law Enforcement

If police have a reasonable suspicion, like speeding, possible criminal activity, or a person actively running from a police officer, they have a legal right to stop you. An officer can request that you roll down your window.

Georgia law requires every licensed driver to show their license and proof of insurance upon the demand of a law enforcement officer. Failure to obey these requests can lead to arrest, prosecution, and conviction. 

An officer can order someone stopped for a traffic violation to exit the vehicle. When an officer asks you to “please step out of your car,” you should do it.

Continued refusal to obey lawful commands from an officer could result in your arrest for misdemeanor obstruction. If your disobedience escalates to a threat or violent act on the officer, the violation becomes a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.

  • Understanding the Boundaries

For traffic stops in Georgia, the officer should have a reasonable suspicion or some probable cause to stop you.

  1. Reasonable Suspicion: A police officer should have reasonable suspicion that the person committed a crime before initiating a police stop. This suspicion should be based on specific and articulable facts that, when taken together, warrant the stop.
  2. Probable Cause: If, during a stop, a police officer develops enough evidence to reasonably believe that a crime has occurred or is in progress, they may escalate the stop to an arrest or a search of the individual or their property.

A traffic stop should be of a reasonable duration. Officers cannot unreasonably prolong the stop to investigate unrelated matters.

If they do not mention their reason upon contacting you, you can politely ask why you’ve been stopped. If they have no reason, or if their reason is unclear, then ask if you’re free to leave.

If you are not free to leave, you are being detained. An officer may ask to search you or your vehicle while detained. You may be arrested if that search leads to incriminating evidence or probable cause.

If you believe your rights have been violated during a police stop in Georgia, file a complaint with the relevant law enforcement agency or seek legal counsel to protect your rights.

Specific Scenarios and Your Rights

  • Traffic Stops

You should be polite and know you do not have to answer any further questions without a lawyer present.

  • DUI Checkpoints

Both the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of Georgia have upheld the constitutionality of checkpoints.

Generally, at a DUI checkpoint, all drivers should stop and provide their name, license, insurance card, and vehicle registration to the officer at the checkpoint. You don’t have to answer questions about your activities or whether you’ve been drinking.

Once a police officer establishes probable cause, such as alcohol smell, he can ask the driver to submit to a field sobriety test. A driver can refuse the test, but anyone who refuses a breathalyzer test may have their license suspended under “implied consent” laws in Georgia. 

  • Searches and Seizures

According to Georgia’s search and seizure laws, law enforcement officers can confiscate anything in plain view when approaching your car during a traffic stop. However, The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable search and seizure. For a police officer to request to search your car or look in the glove compartment or trunk, they should have probable cause or a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.

How to Handle a Police Stop

  1. Slow down, put your turn signal on, and pull off the road on a shoulder or side street.
  2. Stay in your car and turn off the ignition. 
  3. If a police officer approaches you at a traffic stop, stay calm, roll down your window, and keep your hands where they are visible on the steering wheel.
  4. Wait until the officer asks for your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and insurance to reach for them. Any sudden movements could be misinterpreted and cause the situation to escalate.
  5. If the officer asks you to step out of your car, follow their instructions and stay calm.
  6. The officer may ask to search your car, which you can refuse.
  7. Do not give the officer reason to believe you have something illegal by hiding things, reaching for objects they have not asked for, or being disrespectful.

What to Do If Your Rights Are Violated in a Police Stop

If you feel your rights are being violated, note the details of your encounter should you decide to file a police misconduct claim later or use it as part of your defense. You can ask for the officers’ badge numbers and names.

It’s essential to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. They can guide you through the legal process, help you understand your options, and advise how to proceed.

The Waltman Firm Can Help You

The Waltman Firm has earned a reputation as a trusted and effective legal advocate for its clients across Georgia. Our attorneys tailor their strategies to meet the specific needs of each case, increasing the chances of a favorable outcome.

Our law firm has consistently delivered positive results for our clients. Contact us to schedule a consultation for further guidance and representation for any concerns or cases related to police stops in Georgia.