For the average person, getting pulled over by the police is an intimidating experience, even if you know you’re in the wrong. Most people know that they have constitutional rights that protect them but they also know they can get into trouble if they disobey the officer. The tricky part is knowing where the lines are drawn. If you don’t, you can be persuaded into doing whatever the police say.
We all want to assume that the police always have our best interest in mind, but they are human. For the sake of this article, we’ll assume that the officers may be on the verge of taking things too far.
Sometimes citizens invoke their rights during traffic stops, which can anger certain officers, most likely because they see this behavior all too often. We’ve all heard the stories where officers got too physical or violent and toeing the line can be difficult.
It’s disturbing to hear about the moments where officers took things too far, especially when the citizen was doing nothing wrong. The media reports about the scariest situations, so the extreme is often in the forefront of our minds.
The Constitution is supposed to protect our rights, yet citizens get arrested for invoking it. With extreme incidents occurring so often, it’s a clear indication that our legal system could use some work. But out on the streets, the police are the ones with the power.
The truth is that even the most experienced and professional officers find ways to wiggle around constitutional rights. Have you ever heard an officer say something like, “We can get a warrant to search your bag or you can save time by letting us look through it now”? Officers pressure citizens all the time, and when they get intimidating, it’s easy to cave. If the case ends up in court, the judge will usually say the citizen consented to the search when they didn’t object or assert their rights.
You should know that asserting your rights is no guarantee against arrest. Some officers will make false arrests and conduct illegal searches to get what they want. Constitutional rights can only be vindicated in court, which means that once the criminal charges are dropped, violations usually get swept under the rug and judges or juries never address them.
Depending on the situation and the type of treatment you receive, you may be able to file a civil suit. Most of the time physical injuries or serious property damage are grounds for filing such a case. However, government lawyers usually settle such lawsuits with treasury money and the offers usually face little in the way of discipline or consequences.
Even though the police officers are the ones in power during a traffic stop, we shouldn’t let them take advantage of us. You could get pulled over even if you were doing something completely innocent (perhaps you weren’t even speeding). The best course of action to take is to obey their commands. You can politely and calmly decline requests.
Important tip: law enforcement officers are trained to blur this line. For instance, they might knock on your door and say, “Let’s chat.” A good thing to do in this case is to clarify the situation by asking, “Are you asking me to allow a search or is this an order?” This way you know exactly what will be happening.
If the officer clarifies that this isn’t an order, the choice is yours to make. In the event that you give the police permission to search your home without a warrant, that’s on you. Declining them is also your call.
Remember, the Constitution won’t enforce itself. It’s a piece of paper that will remain as such until we calmly and cooly invoke our rights.