Law enforcement officers cannot legally conduct random traffic stops in Tennessee. To justify the stop, they must reasonably suspect a driver is violating a law. Sometimes all it takes is speeding or recklessly switching lanes to warrant suspicious behavior. You should know you have rights that can protect you when an officer pulls you over. Here are questions that can help you understand your rights at a traffic stop.
Do I have to answer the officer’s questions?
You have a right to remain silent. When an officer stops a vehicle, they might routinely ask for the driver’s name, license and registration. While you should identify yourself and provide the necessary documentation, you and the other passengers in the vehicle can refuse to answer the officer’s questions. You can respectfully and politely decline to answer to avoid escalating the situation further.
Does the traffic stop seem unreasonably long?
Once an officer stops your vehicle, you can keep track of the length of time the officer detains you. Traffic stops should only be long enough to conduct a sufficient investigation and to consequently address whatever traffic violation they suspect you committed. They would need probable cause to hold you longer than necessary.
Can they search my car?
You have a right against illegal search and seizure. An officer can ask if they can search your car once they pull you over. They will need a warrant if you do not give your consent. However, once the officer has probable cause to search your car, they do not need a warrant or your permission. They might have probable cause if there are controlled substances, alcohol bottles or illegal firearms in plain sight. Similarly, your unusual or impaired behavior can also give them probable cause. You should know that any evidence an officer obtains in an illegal search and seizure cannot be admissible in court.
Knowing and exercising your rights can prevent excessive and abusive police misconduct. A traffic stop is a form of seizure that must have some form of legal justification. You must protect yourself and your rights as a Tennessee driver.