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Former Traffic Court Judge Serving New York and New Jersey

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Former Traffic Court Judge

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What are your rights during New York traffic stops?

Motorists throughout New York City are often pulled over by law enforcement. According to the New York City Police Department, there were more than 64,000 summonses issued for traffic violations in January of 2015 alone. Although traffic stops are common, many drivers are unaware of their rights, which could lead to them somehow incriminating themselves. In order to ensure they are protected, it behooves people to know their rights during a traffic stop.

It is common when authorities pull motorists over for them to ask for permission to search the vehicle. However, unless they have a warrant or probable cause, such as drug paraphernalia in plain view, people generally do not have to acquiesce to their request. Law enforcement does not have to notify people of their right to decline a search, which may lead to them feeling obliged to give their consent.

Another common misconception is that people are required to answer law enforcement’s questions during traffic stops. Generally, it may be of benefit to cooperate, such as through providing their driver’s license and registration. People do not have to answer questions that may incriminate themselves, or be used to build a case against them, however.

There are situations in which drivers may be concerned that their rights are being infringed on during a traffic stop. As such, they may choose to film or record the stop themselves, and to ask law enforcement officers for their badge number. Unless their filming or recording somehow interferes with, or stalls, law enforcement’s investigation, people generally cannot be arrested simply for filming officers. This information can be important should they choose to file a complaint with the department or fight a traffic ticket. 

In general, the duration of a stop must be reasonable. Law enforcement commonly detains drivers while they run checks on their identification cards and license plates, but they cannot hold motorists indefinitely. Therefore, in situations when a stop has lasted for 30 minutes or more, people have the right to ask authorities why they are being detained.

This post has provided a general overview of the rights that people are afforded during New York traffic stops. It should be considered only as general information and not taken as professional legal advice. 

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