Many people who get pulled over in the state of Massachusetts do not fully know their rights with the officer who pulled them over. Unfortunately this can lead to some police officers taking advantage of those uninformed. Knowing what the officer, who just pulled you over, can and can’t do can help protect your 4th amendment and other rights.
(Picture taken by JSmith) First off, Police officers can not randomly stop and search a vehicle to check the license and registration without a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. What does reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing mean? It means that the officer reasonably believes or believed that you have committed a traffic violation or some other crime. So therefore if you have been speeding or driving while under the influence of alcohol then the officer can pull you over and ask you for your license and registration. The police cannot randomly pull people over to see if your car is licensed and registered. It is important to note that even though the police do not have a reasonable suspicion to pull you over, sobriety checkpoints are legal and valid due to the fact that they are categorized as “fixed checkpoints to test for compliance related to driver safety”.
When an officer pulls you over for a routine traffic stop (speeding, burnt out headlight, etc.) his inquiry about the stop must end on the production of a valid license and registration. However the officer can continue their inquiry if they have the grounds for inferring that either you (the driver) or your passengers were involved in the commission of a crime or engaged in other suspicious activity. If the officer does believe you are engaged in a suspicious activity and continues his inquiry, he must stop his inquiry once any potential threat to his safety has been dispelled and there is no reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. Once this happens any basis for further detention of you is gone and the office must allow you to leave. Also the officer cannot interrogate any of your passengers unless there is a reasonable basis for him doing so; such as he sees them holding drug paraphernalia.
So lets say you get pulled over for a traffic violation and the officer decides to arrest you. Once this happens the officer can search your body due to the search incident to arrest doctrine. This doctrine basically states that the police can search you for any dangerous weapons or incriminating evidence (e.g. a pat-down) and anything within your immediate control. Due to this doctrine, the officer can search your entire passenger area, including the glove box and any containers found in the passenger area because these areas have been deemed to be within your immediate control at the time the handcuffs are put on you. The officer can search these areas even if you are sitting in the back of the police cruiser.
The searching of an automobile and when you can be stopped is a complex and well litigated issue with many rules applying to many different situations. It is such a complex issue that several blog posts need to be written about it in order to fully explain all the nuances of this area of the law. However the above, basic, laws regarding your rights during a traffic stop are crucial and the ones that citizens need to know about the most. It is especially pertinent to know these basic officer cans and cant’s during the holiday season as there will be many drivers and police officers on the road this holiday season.
Article written by Andrew Kussmaul