You are on the highway driving, and you hear a trooper ordering you to stop. For most people, being stopped by the police brings about general nervousness. At the time, you may wonder whether you’ll need to call a New York criminal defense lawyer

However, as a driver or passenger, you should know your general rights that cannot be violated by the police. Knowing the New York state and federal laws that protect your rights can save you from potential legal trouble.

What Does the Law Say When an Officer Pulls You Over?

New York laws guarantee motorists various rights when they are pulled over by a law enforcer. The state laws can also determine the legal outcome of particular situations, for example, when you are routinely stopped in traffic and then arrested.

Here are nine things you should remember when you are stopped by the police in New York:

  • You can protest an illegal stop with legal help
  • The police can search your vehicle with enough reason
  • It is your right to record encounters with the police
  • If you are selected, you have to stop at police checkpoints
  • It is not a requirement for you to take a roadside breathalyzer test
  • You can invoke your Fifth Amendment right not to answer any questions
  • You can stay in your vehicle during a traffic stop
  • Officers cannot pull you over randomly; they require probable cause
  • If it’s not safe, you can wait instead of pulling over right away

When Can New York Police Search Your Vehicle?

New York police are only allowed to search your vehicle when they have a warrant. However, there are a few exceptions to this requirement:

I. When there are high priority circumstances

If an officer believes that you are about to hide or destroy evidence, he or she is allowed to search your car to get the evidence. For example, if you are pulled over and appear frantic to discard or hide something, the police officer can use your behavior to justify searching your car right there.

II. When law enforcement has reasonable suspicion

The law allows New York police to search your car when they have “reasonable suspicion”. This is quite a grey area as the officers are allowed, based on their judgment, to determine whether it is necessary to search your car.

For example, it is not illegal to insist on staying in your driver’s seat when you are pulled over. Also, it is not illegal to have something suspicious in your car. However, these situations may make police officers suspicious of you and for that reason, may proceed to search your car.

III. When you are arrested

If there is enough evidence against you during a routine traffic stop, the police can arrest you as well as search your car.

IV. When something is in the open

Law enforcers are allowed to investigate and search your car if they can see illegal substances in your car during a routine traffic stop. For example, if the police see rolls of drugs on your car dashboard, they are allowed to search your car without a warranty.

V. After you have given consent

The police can also search your car when you give them permission to do so. In case they find anything during the search, this will be fair game for issuing a ticket or preferring legal action against you.

What Should You Do When Stopped and Frisked by the Police?

Sometimes, New York police may stop and briefly detain you if they have information that you are about to commit a crime or suspect that you have already committed one. When you are detained, you should ask if you are under arrest or are free to leave.

New York residents are not required to carry an ID. Therefore, you don’t have to show your ID to a police officer. On the other hand, if you are summoned or arrested and refuse to produce your ID, the police can detain you until they can positively verify your identity.

When the police approach you, they are required to identify themselves and let you know what they are doing or are after. If they don’t ticket or arrest you, they should give you a business card before leaving. New York police are required to identify themselves in all circumstances, unless they are responding to an emergency situation.

Finally, do not run away or speak badly about the police, even if you believe what they are doing is wrong. This could lead to an arrest.

What Should You Do When the Police Come to Your Home?

New York police are legally allowed to enter your home if it is an emergency or they have a search warrant. If the police say that they have a warrant to search your home or business premises, ask to see it. Confirm that the warrant identifies your residential or business premise’s address.

When you are arrested at home or in your office, the police are allowed to search you as well as the areas around. The law enforcers can also extend their search to any areas where they may suspect or have evidence of ongoing criminal activity.

What Should You Do When You Are Arrested and Taken to the Police Station?

When you are arrested, you have the right not to answer any questions. Moreover, you have the right to be provided with an attorney before you speak to the police. You should not tell the police anything apart from your name and address. When the police start questioning you, ask to speak to your attorney first. 

Keep in mind that anything you tell the police can be used against you in a court of law. Therefore, it is advisable to talk to a lawyer first before giving any stories, excuses, or explanations that the police about what may have happened.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, the state can provide you with one for free when your case goes to court. While at the station, you can ask the police how you can get in touch with an attorney. 

After you have been arrested and booked, ask the police to allow you to contact a friend or family member. The police will usually allow you to make a phone call. However, keep in mind that anything that you say on the phone may be recorded or listened to. Therefore, you should not speak any details about your case with anybody when making the call. Follow these guidelines to avoid further consequences.

Finally, do not accept invitations to sign any statements or make any decisions about your case before talking with your lawyer. 

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.