Any encounter with the police can be intimidating. You almost always want it to end as soon as possible. However, if you walk or drive away from police too soon, it could cause more trouble, or even added criminal charges. Find out how your Constitutional rights and Connecticut law interact when the police stop you on the sidewalk, and in your car.
Many people know that they have rights when interacting with police officers. If you watch popular television, you may know about your Miranda rights:
What many people don’t realize is that many of those rights don’t go into effect until after the traffic stop is over and you are arrested by the police. So what rights do you have if the police stop you on the sidewalk or pull you over in a traffic stop?
First, it depends on whether you are driving at the time of the stop. Connecticut police do not have the right to demand that passengers or pedestrians present identification (though they sometimes can ask your name). However, if you are driving, state law requires you to provide your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance at any traffic stop.
The right not to incriminate yourself (by remaining silent) starts the moment you come in contact with the police. The only exception may be to state your name. After that, you may choose to verbally refuse to answer any questions, particularly questions like:
The police have the authority to hold you for as long as their investigation takes, but no longer. If it seems like they have finished asking questions, ask if you are free to leave. This question forces the officers to decide if they have enough evidence to arrest you, or if you can walk or drive away.
Connecticut police are legally allowed to set up roadside sobriety checkpoints to stop drunk drivers. There are detailed rules about when and how these checkpoints can be set up. For instance, the checkpoint must be clearly marked, and officers must ask all detained drivers the same initial questions. While nothing forces you to drive through a checkpoint (you could always take another route), once you are stopped, all the same rules apply for a normal traffic stop.
If the officers believe you have been drinking, they may ask you to get out of your vehicle and complete sobriety tests, including a preliminary breath test. You have the right to refuse these tests. If the officers truly believe you are guilty of drunk driving, they may be able to arrest you and get a warrant for blood alcohol testing. However, you are not obliged to make their job easy for them.
What happens if you drive away before the traffic stop is over? Many Connecticut police departments have a “no chase” policy where officers will not pursue you if you try to drive away. However, even if you avoid the traffic stop you may still face serious consequences for making that choice. Connecticut law makes “engaging in pursuit” a traffic infraction or crime depending on the circumstances. If you fail to pull over or speed away from a police car with its lights and sirens going, you may face fines, points on your driving record, or even jail time due to “engaging in pursuit” charges.
There are defenses to these charges. You may not have seen the officer, may have had to accelerate to pull over safely, or may have been looking for a well lit place to speak to the officer. If you find yourself facing “engaging in pursuit” charges, speak to a criminal defense attorney to prepare a defense and protect your driving record.
It is worth noting that while you have the right to remain silent, refuse searches, and decline sobriety testing, you should not exercise those rights in an aggressive or abusive manner. Remain calm and polite, even while asserting your rights. The more unruly you are during a traffic stop, the higher the chances are that the officers will find reasons to delay you further, arrest you, or even treat you as a threat. Follow the officers’ instructions and simple requests, and respond to their questions politely using short answers. If you must assert your rights, do so clearly but courteously.
If you believe your rights have been violated, the place to fight back against those violations is in court, not on the side of the road. Ask for each officer’s name and a business card, and take note of as many details as possible during the stop. Then you and your criminal defense attorney can discuss what happened and use those civil rights violations as part of your defense.
The Lebedevitch Law Firm in Fairfield, Connecticut, helps drivers protect their rights and defend their driving record. We will help you review the traffic stop, evaluate any possible defenses or violations of your rights, and decide whether to enter a plea agreement or take the matter to trial. Contact us for a free consultation.