Question: “During a Traffic Stop, Do I Have to Consent to Search?”
A local North Carolina Police Department recently posted on YouTube a video regarding Traffic Stops: What to Expect as a Motorist. There are some important points to consider:
- Consent to Search a Vehicle Implies Voluntary Compliance
- “Consent” is NOT Required
- An Officer may legally ask for Consent
- A Motorist may legally refuse to grant Consent
- Without Sufficient Legal Basis a Law Enforcement Officer cannot search you or your vehicle
Consent should be obvious. Consent should be voluntary. – Bill Powers
Police would not normally have Legal Authority to Search a Vehicle pursuant to a minor Traffic Violation. Involvement with law enforcement should be “minimally intrusive” and, without more, limited to the ministerial function of issuing a citation.
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Modified Transcription of Do I Have to Consent to Search? for the Hearing Impaired:
Speaker 1: Hello. My name is Michael Bruce. I’m a captain with the Raleigh Police Department. As
our chief and other RPD representatives attend community meetings, they are asked
many questions about how the department goes about policing. No other topic comes
up more often than traffic stops. People want to know what they should do, what the
officers should do, what they can expect, and what they can do if they have questions
about the stop. This video will provide some answers to those questions.
A police officer must have a reason to make a traffic stop. That reason must meet a legal
standard known as reasonable suspicion. A traffic stop cannot be a random action. It
must be based upon facts an officer can articulate. The reason for traffic stops involves
such things as speeding violations, issues with a vehicle’s registration, and other less
common factors. Whatever the reason, we understand that being stopped by a police
officer can be stressful for anyone, but by following a few basic steps during a traffic
stop, the experience can progress without misunderstanding or conflict. First, remain
calm. Find a safe place to stop. Pull your vehicle into a nearby parking lot, or to the right
side of the roadway. Try to stop as far away from traffic as you safely can. Put your car
in park. Turn off anything that might make it hard for you and the officer to
communicate, things like radios, or other devices playing through your car’s speakers.
After that, put your hands on the steering wheel, and ask your passengers to keep their
hands visible. Officers approach traffic stops with caution. Remember, in the beginning,
they don’t know who’s in a stopped vehicle, or what their intentions may be. Officers
are trained to protect everyone’s safety during a traffic stop. Your safety and the
officer’s safety are paramount. While most stops conclude without incident, officers
must remain cautious. Stay in your vehicle, and tell your passengers to stay inside, as
well. The officer will approach you, and may remind you to keep your hands on the
steering wheel. Lower your window, so you can communicate clearly with the officer.
Both you and the officer should treat one another with mutual respect.
Speaker 2: Good morning, sir. I’m Officer Yardley, with the Raleigh Police Department. The reason
why I pulled you over this morning is that you failed to come to a complete stop for the
stop sign back there.
Speaker 3: I slowed down.
Speaker 2: Okay. Well, sir, I was driving down the same road, and I didn’t see you come to a
complete stop. Is there any justifiable reason why you didn’t come to a complete stop?
Speaker 3: I thought I slowed down enough.
Speaker 1: If you have any weapons in the passenger compartment of your vehicle, you should
immediately tell the officer about them, and where they are located.
Speaker 3: All right. Before I start reaching for stuff, I want you to know, I got a concealed weapons
permit, and I’m carrying a concealed weapon.
Speaker 2: Okay. Where is that weapon located at?
Speaker 3 On my hip.
Speaker 2: On your right hip?
Speaker 3: Yes, sir.
To avoid any misunderstandings, wait until the officer asks you for your registration or
license, before reaching for them. Follow the officer’s directions about how to retrieve
Speaker 2: Okay. Do you have your license with you this morning?
Speaker 3: I do.
Speaker 2: Again, just with your right arm, go ahead and reach for your license, and hand that to
Speaker 1: Answer any question the officer may have, fully and clearly. Comply with all directions
you are given. Later, we’ll talk about what you can do if you have a complaint about the
stop. The officer will take your license and registration to the police vehicle, to compare
it with official records. It’s possible that another police unit will arrive at the traffic stop.
That’s just another step officers take, to help ensure everyone’s safety. In many
instances, drivers and passengers are told to remain inside their vehicle throughout a
When the officer returns to your vehicle, he or she will inform you of any enforcement
actions being taken, and take steps to begin to conclude the traffic stop. Possible
enforcement actions include a verbal or written warning, or a citation for the traffic
violation. When the officer returns all of your documents and states you are free to
leave, the traffic stop is concluded. If you receive a citation, it’s unlikely you’ll change
anything by raising objections at that point. However, if the reasons for the citation
aren’t clear to you, you may certainly ask the officer to explain them. Remember, you
will receive a court date and will be able to share your perspective in front of a judge,
who is sworn to be impartial.
Under some circumstances, the officer may ask you, and perhaps your passengers, to
step out of your vehicle. If that’s the case, follow the officer’s instructions about getting
out, and what to do, once you are out.
Speaker 2: Sir, at this point, you’re free to leave, but what I’d like to do with your permission, is just
have you step to the rear of your car, and just talk with you a few more minutes.
Speaker 3: Okay, sure. That’s no problem.
The officer may ask you for permission to lightly pat the outer layer of your clothing.
This is another step taken, to ensure everyone’s safety. The officer may also ask for
permission to search the vehicle. As the search is conducted, the officer will ask you to
either stand or sit outside. You have the right to permit or refuse such a search. If you
grant approval, you may rescind it at any point.
Speaker 2: While I perform the search, I’ll just have you take a seat down here on the curb. Is that
Speaker 3: Fine.
Speaker 2: Okay. Just go ahead and take a seat here with this officer, and if you don’t mind, while
you’re sitting there, just go ahead and extend your legs straight out. Cross your ankles,
and just keep your hands on your knees for me. Is that okay?
Speaker 3: Like this?
Speaker 2: Yes, sir.
Speaker 1: In a small percentage of cases, an arrest is made, following a traffic stop, or at the
conclusion of a consent search.
Speaker 2: All right, sir, if you’d like to, just go ahead and stand up. All right, sir. I do appreciate
your cooperation today. Go ahead and drive safe.
Speaker 3: Thank you.
Speaker 1: Now, if you don’t believe you were treated fairly during the stop, I guess you could say,
that’s where I come in. As I mentioned earlier, I’m the captain with the Raleigh Police
Department. What I didn’t say is that I lead the department’s Internal Affairs unit. Our
PD officers have a good record when it comes to their interactions with the public, but
we are all human, and that makes us less than perfect. The Internal Affairs unit
investigates complaints when someone believes an officer has been discourteous, or
acted inappropriately. Officers can be disciplined for not following our policies, or not
conducting themselves in an appropriate manner. We take the Raleigh Police
Department’s integrity, and our role in helping preserve it, very seriously. All Internal
Affairs complaints are investigated thoroughly. Remember, we cannot investigate issues
we don’t know about, so we sincerely encourage you to contact the Internal Affairs unit
if you have a complaint or concern. You can reach our PD Internal Affairs by telephone
at (919) 996-3155, or by email at Internal.affairs@raleighNC.gov. Do not hesitate to
contact us. The Internal Affairs unit is a vitally important part of the relationship
between the community and the Raleigh police, and we stand ready to listen to you.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Bill Powers Super Lawyers 2016 “Badges”
*Bill Powers has been included in the 2016 North Carolina Super Lawyers Magazine
Links to the publication have been provided. You may also gather more information regarding the criterion for inclusion by going to: SuperLawyers.com.
Bill’s Profile in Super Lawyers can be found at: https://profiles.superlawyers.com/north-carolina/charlotte/lawyer/bill-powers/ccf452c7-eeb6-4f0e-98e4-337804e043e8.html