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Did the police have the right to stop you? How to know

When you're driving, the police do not have a right to stop you unless they have a legitimate reason to do so. For instance, if you're speeding, you're violating the law and can be stopped by law enforcement.

Stopping your vehicle is different from searching it, too. Although an officer might find a reason to stop you, that doesn't mean that he or she has a right to search your vehicle.

What should you do if you're stopped by the police?

First, don't admit to doing anything wrong. It could be that the officer wanted to do a welfare check because you weaved out of your lane temporarily, or it could be that you have a light out. Don't start looking for reasons that the officer pulled you over. It's much easier just to ask. You have a right to ask and to get an answer. Many people are taught to ask, "What seems to be the problem, officer?" -- which is a polite, but to-the-point, way to ask why you've been stopped.

What should you do if the officer asks to search your vehicle?

The officer doesn't always have a right to do so, but he or she may in some instances. For instance, if the officer asks, you can give consent. If you stay silent or do not give consent, the officer needs to obtain a warrant.

Next, if the officer has reasonable suspicion, he or she may search the vehicle. For example, if the officer hears muffled whines coming from the back of your vehicle (because your dog hid), he or she may open it to make sure there's nothing inside that is suffering. You should let the officer know that you have an animal in the car in the above scenario, so that he or she isn't caught off-guard.

Finally, if the officer would like to, he or she may ask you to leave your vehicle and stay in the patrol vehicle until another officer arrives with a warrant.

In any case, if there is truly nothing to hide, you can consent to the search. However, it's also within your rights not to do so.

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