Know Your Rights: Navigating Traffic Stops in Tennessee

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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State Police Traffic Stop

Being pulled over by the police can be an intimidating and nerve-wracking experience. It’s essential to know and understand your rights during a traffic stop in Tennessee to help you navigate the situation with confidence and self-assurance. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore your rights during a traffic stop, practical tips for ensuring your safety and protecting your rights, and the importance of seeking legal counsel if you believe your rights have been violated. By equipping yourself with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to handle any future encounters with law enforcement during a traffic stop.

Understanding the Reason for the Traffic Stop

Before delving into your rights during a traffic stop, it’s crucial to know that the police must have a valid reason to stop you. Law enforcement officers are not allowed to conduct random traffic stops without cause. Typical reasons for traffic stops include speeding, broken taillights, expired registration, or other traffic violations. Familiarizing yourself with common traffic laws can help you avoid being pulled over in the first place. However, it is imperative that you do not argue with the officers. Arguing with the officers and their lack of reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop will only make your life more difficult that day and the officer more likely to tell the prosecutor that they should not be lenient on your case.

Your Right to Remain Silent

One of the most important rights you have during a traffic stop is the right to remain silent. Although you must provide your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance upon request, you are not required to answer any further questions from the police. It’s often best to politely decline to answer questions beyond providing the necessary documentation. Remember that anything you say can be used against you in court, so exercising your right to remain silent can protect you from inadvertently incriminating yourself. You always have the right to have a lawyer present during questioning by police officers, so we recommend you exercise that right and tell the officer you were told not to talk to police without a lawyer present.

Challenging the Legality of the Traffic Stop

Should you believe that the traffic stop was conducted without a valid reason or based on racial profiling, you have the right to challenge its legality in court. In many cases, the client, and even some lawyers, may not recognize an illegal traffic stop. As such, it is imperative that you contact an experienced DUI attorney who understands the law and will challenge any potential illegal traffic stop. For example, even for a speeding stop, an officer must be able to articulate specific facts to establish that you were objectively speeding. The officer cannot allege that he or she believed you were speeding. The officer must radar or pace you and even then, there are specific requirements for it to be a valid traffic stop. Similarly, every statute has specific requirements that must be met for an officer to have reasonable suspicion for a valid traffic stop. The DUI lawyers at Barnes & Fersten will challenge any potential unlawful traffic stop. Again, important to note that this challenge should be done in court and not during the traffic stop itself.

Searches After the Stop: Know Your Rights and Limitations

Understanding your rights regarding searches during a traffic stop is essential. After the stop, you have the right to challenge the legality of any search conducted, including searches of your vehicle or person. You also have the right to be free from unreasonable or illegal searches by law enforcement.

However, it’s important to be aware that there are some exceptions to these rights. If an officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed or that you’re concealing evidence, they may potentially search your vehicle without your consent. Additionally, if an officer reasonably believes that their safety or the safety of others is at risk, they may conduct a limited search for weapons. Understanding these exceptions can help you better protect your rights during a traffic stop. Once again, the exceptions that authorize a warrantless search are very limited and may only be conducted under limited circumstances. The DUI and criminal defense attorneys at Barnes & Fersten have suppressed searches that have resulted in the dismissal of felony drug charges and prevented evidence from being used at trial.

One common example is an “inventory search”. An inventory search allows an officer to conduct a search of a vehicle prior to towing the vehicle after an arrest. However, the officer must provide the defendant an opportunity to make their own arrangements for their vehicle by potentially calling a family member or friend or calling a towing company of their own choice prior to an officer conducting an inventory search. This is a common example because officers routinely do not provide a defendant this opportunity despite it being the law. Officers routinely use an inventory search to circumvent the warrant requirement for a search. We suggest calmly requesting the officer if you can call a family member or friend to pick up your vehicle if you are being arrested. If they deny your request, do not argue with the officer but it will be on the body camera and it will bolster the argument for the evidence found in your vehicle to be suppressed in court. 

Tips for a Safe Traffic Stop Experience

To ensure a safe and smooth interaction with law enforcement during a traffic stop, follow these guidelines:

  1. Stay Calm and Composed: Maintaining a calm demeanor can help diffuse any tension during the traffic stop and improve communication with the officer.
  2. Pull Over to a Safe Location: As soon as you see the flashing lights, signal and safely pull over to a secure area, such as a parking lot or the shoulder of the road.
    1. If you do not immediately attempt to pull over the officer will use your failure to respond to the blue lights as a signal of impairment; it is one of the twenty-four (24) potential cues of impairment during the vehicle in motion phase.
    2. Additionally, your failure to pull over can potentially result in an evading arrest charge. An evading arrest charge in a vehicle is a Class E felony charge. As such, your failure to pull over may result in additional and more severe consequences and charges against you.
  3. Turn Off Your Engine and Roll Down Your Window: Doing so helps the officer feel more at ease and facilitates clear communication.
  4. Keep Your Hands Visible on the Steering Wheel: This gesture demonstrates your cooperation and prevents any potential misunderstandings.
  5. Do Not Make Any Sudden Movements: Abrupt movements could be interpreted as a threat, potentially escalating the situation.
  6. Do Not Argue With the Police: Even if you disagree with the reason for the stop, arguing will only make the situation worse and may lead to additional charges.
  7. Do Not Consent to a Search of Your Vehicle: Politely decline any requests to search your vehicle. If the officer has a valid reason to search your car, they will do so without your consent.

Additional Considerations for Out-of-State Drivers

If you’re an out-of-state driver pulled over in Tennessee, it’s crucial to be aware that the traffic laws may differ from those in your home state. Be prepared to comply with Tennessee’s traffic laws and provide the necessary documentation. Additionally, if you are charged with a traffic violation or DUI, you will need to seek legal representation within Tennessee to handle your case. Our attorneys routinely represent out-of-state drivers who are arrested for DUI, drug charges and other criminal offenses while on vacation in East Tennessee, including but not limited to Knox County, Sevier County, Anderson County, Loudon County, and Blount County.

Contact Barnes and Fersten

Don’t let a traffic stop jeopardize your future. If you believe your rights have been violated during a traffic stop in Tennessee, it is crucial to seek legal representation from experienced criminal defense attorneys. The legal team at Barnes and Fersten has the knowledge and expertise necessary to protect your rights and defend your freedom. Contact Barnes and Fersten today to schedule a free consultation and discuss your case.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.