What Are My Rights During a Traffic Stop: Pop Culture v. Reality and Jay-Z’s 99 Problems

By Allen, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Kyle T. Therrian
Office Number: (972) 562-7549
24 Hr Jail Release: (214) 403-6522


Pop culture knowledge of constitutional rights is an interesting thing. Many people think they know their rights until they find themselves in a situation and confronted by a police officer. Immediately, people begin to question the things they heard from a friend of a friend or what they saw on television. When you place the general public’s knowledge of individual rights onto a scale, the average person would fall somewhere between “I think that I know” and “I know that I know.” Since police officers are trained to use this less-than-complete level of confidence to their advantage, “sort-of” knowing your rights might as well be “not knowing” your rights.

As a lawyer, I am happy with the spread of constitutional knowledge in any form. Knowledge, even imperfect, is important to our system of government. Television, music and movie industries illustrate that lawyers are not the only ones interested in our laws. Since becoming a lawyer, I have admittedly become less interested in legal dramas, with one exception: Jay-Z’s 99 Problems. To date, nobody has come as close as Jay-Z in making legal knowledge seem so cool.

But does Jay-Z get it right? As a criminal lawyer, I will tell you there is both a long and short answer to everything. The short answer is: he got a little bit right. The long answer is contained in an out-of-the-ordinary law review article which is worth the read. It was written by Professor Caleb Mason at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and linked below. This is followed by a quick reference of responsibilities, rights, and general things to know during a traffic stop.


1. Stop your vehicle in a safe place as quickly as possible.
2. Upon request, show your driver’s license, registration, and/or vehicle insurance.
3. Upon request, identify yourself .
4. Upon request, you must step out of the vehicle – do not step out of the vehicle without being asked.
5. Comply with orders to stand in certain places or orders regarding placement of your hands.
6. Do not obstruct or interfere with the officer.
7. Do not lie or give false documents.
8. If you are being placed under arrest, do not resist, even if you believe you are being wrongfully arrested.

Your Rights

1. You have the right to remain silent but must identify yourself upon request.
2. Passengers have the right to remain silent, too.
3. You have the right to refuse consent to search your vehicle or person.
4. You have the right to refuse field sobriety tests.
5. You have the right to refuse the breath test.
6. You have the right to a lawyer once you are arrested.

Additional Things to Know

1. Pull your vehicle over quickly but in a safe location, turn the vehicle off, turn a dome light on, place both hands on the steering wheel. Police officers place themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis and usually have no idea who the person is that they are dealing with or what they might do. These types of things will help reduce the number of things the officer has to worry about and are usually appreciated.
2. With the exception of identifying yourself, you have no obligation to answer any questions. Don’t ignore the officer, but politely inform him or her that you are exercising your right to remain silent should you choose to do so.
3. If the officer has probable cause that evidence of a crime is located in your vehicle he may search without consent. An officer may also pat you down if he has reason to believe you possess a weapon. Do not resist a pat down. You have the right to refuse further search of your person if he asks permission.
4. If it appears that the reason for the traffic stop has ended and the officer continues to detain you, ask the officer whether you are under arrest. If the answer is no, ask whether you are free to leave. If you are told that you are free to leave, you may then calmly leave the scene.
5. Don’t give explanations or excuses if you are arrested. You will not be able to talk your way out of it.
6. If you are inside or in front of a squad car, you are probably being video-taped.
7. Remain calm be polite and don’t argue with the police.
8. If you are being ordered to do something, comply. If it is unclear whether you are being ordered, ask.
9. When asserting your rights, do so clearly and unequivocally.

*Kyle Therrian is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. For legal advice on any case you should contact an attorney directly.

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