By Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the NMA’s Driving Freedoms Magazine in the Fall of 2020. If you would like to receive the NMA’s quarterly magazine, join the NMA today! Check out the first in this series: Have Checkpoints Gone Too Far?
Similar to a traffic stop, a police officer will likely ask you to show your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. Be polite and courteous while providing these documents. Ask your passengers to remain quiet and not step out of the vehicle.
Don’t talk needlessly nor answer any other questions, especially if they are self-incriminating.
Officers cannot compel you to explain travel plans nor divulge the contents of your vehicle. Passengers are also not required to identify themselves to officers.
There are only three ways law enforcement can search your car:
- You voluntarily allow a search.
- Police have a warrant to search your car.
- Police have “reasonable suspicion” and must explain what they think they will find in your vehicle.
Remember, if police use their authority or force to search your vehicle against your will, and they do not have a warrant or reasonable suspicion, they can and should be held criminally and civilly liable for conducting an illegal search regardless of the outcome.
After you show your paperwork, you may then ask (and keep asking if necessary) the all-important six-worded question, “Am I free to go now?” Asking this question is essential. Otherwise, officers can say that you voluntarily remained under their control.
If an officer says, “No, you are not free to go,” you are within your rights to ask for a legitimate explanation for the delay. If no reason is given, you must persist in asking, “Am I free to go now?” to let there be no confusion regarding your intentions and that you do not wish to remain under the control of the officer.
If law enforcement runs a research checkpoint and asks you to volunteer bodily fluids for a cheek swab (DNA test) or blood sample, you have every right to decline gracefully and drive on unless you want to help with the research.
Checkpoints and roadblocks are never fun, and just like a traffic stop, there are actions you can take to minimize your interaction with police and leave as soon as possible.
Check out the NMA Issue page on Roadblocks for more information.
Check out the following NMA Resources on Checkpoints and Roadblocks.