Flashing red lights in the rearview mirror are never a good sign. You may pull over, hoping the police car will race past you, but when it stops behind you, you may have many questions. What did I do wrong? How should I behave? Should I get out of the car? What is going to happen to me?
In Alabama, as in every state, police cannot pull you over without a reason. Perhaps your headlight is out or you ran a stop sign. In most cases, the incident ends with a ticket or a warning. However, if you aren't aware of your rights, you may find yourself in very hot water.
What are my rights on the road?
It is a violation of your Constitutional rights for police to stop your car just to see if you are doing something illegal. If police have signaled for you to pull over, your rights include the following:
- You have the right to drive until it is safe to pull over. Police recommend that you signal with your hand or flashers to indicate that you are looking for a safe place to stop.
- You have the right to stay in your car. Nevertheless, if an officer asks you to step out of your vehicle, it may be as a safety precaution, so obeying the request is advisable.
- You have the right to refuse to let officers search your vehicle. Unless police obtained a warrant, can see evidence of something illegal, arrested you for probable cause or believe evidence in your vehicle is in danger of destruction, they can't search your car without your permission.
- You have the right to refuse a Breathalyzer. Alabama is an implied-consent state, however, so if you refuse the test, be prepared for the consequences, such as a lengthy suspension of your driver's license.
DUI checkpoints are another matter. In states where they are legal, such as Alabama, you must comply when police ask you to stop.
An advocate for your rights
If police pulled you over, it's likely they have already decided you are guilty, even if it's just a traffic violation. Police often depend on your ignorance of your rights, so knowing what to do ahead of time is the best defense. However, if your recent traffic stop ended badly and you are now facing criminal charges, you still have rights to defend.
Your primary right after an arrest is to seek legal counsel. An attorney will begin by advising you of your rights and reviewing your arrest for any signs that law enforcement violated those rights. When police place you under arrest, even for minor charges, your future is at stake. With an attorney at your side, you improve your chances of a more positive outcome.