The U.S. Constitution contains numerous amendments that protect your rights, liberties and freedom. No situation warrants stripping you of such rights, although certain incidents may cause you to lose privileges, such as incurring a driver's license suspension for conviction of drunk driving. Privileges and rights are two separate issues. It is critical, not only to know what your rights are but how to exercise and protect them, especially if a legal problem arises.
If you're driving along a Wisconsin road and a police officer pulls you over, you have no way of knowing how events will unfold. He or she may simply inform you that you have a brake light out and issue a warning to have it repaired before driving again. On the other hand, if the officer asks you to step out of the car, it's likely that he or she suspects you of a crime. This is when it's most important to be aware of your rights.
Police officers do not have free rein
All Wisconsin motorists, yourself included, must adhere to traffic laws at all times. However, police officers are also legally bound to adhere to the law and may not, for any reason, violate your personal rights. The following list includes information that may be helpful during an encounter with police, especially during a traffic stop:
- In most circumstances, Wisconsin police need a valid search warrant to search your vehicle or person.
- If a police officer asks to look in your car or trunk or inside your pocketbook, etc., you do not have to submit to the request if there is no warrant. There are possible extenuating circumstances where police could execute a search without warrant, which is why it's important to know your rights ahead of time.
- You do not have to answer any questions other than those pertaining to your personal or vehicle identification information.
- You may invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent without the benefit of legal representation.
- If it is possible to record the traffic stop without physically obstructing the officer's investigation, you may want to do so. It can be a great asset to have recorded documentation if you later feel the need to report a particular incident.
- Cooperating and complying with a police officer during a traffic stop doesn't mean you have to abdicate your rights.
- If you ever have an emergency where you believe you're physically in danger, you can dial 911 if you have access to a phone.
- If you permit an officer to search your car, you are waiving your rights against unlawful search and seizure.
- You are not legally obligated to take field sobriety tests or a preliminary alcohol screening.
It's always a good idea to immediately memorize a patrol officer's name and badge number, especially if you believe he or she has violated your personal rights. There must be probable cause to arrest you for suspected drunk driving. If you believe police did not adhere to the laws governing officers' traffic stop behavior, you can speak to someone well-versed in criminal defense law to learn more about how to challenge evidence or request a case dismissal.