Miranda Rights During Routine Traffic Stops: Do You Have to Speak?

If you’ve ever watched a detective show or a legal thriller, you’ve probably heard the following words: “You have the right to remain silent when questioned.  Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in a court of law.”  Whether or not you know them by their formal name, you are virtually guaranteed to have at least a minor degree of familiarity with your Miranda Rights.  But while the opening lines of the Miranda Rights spark recognition for most people, the legal ramifications of choosing speech or silence aren’t as widely known.  If you’re read your Miranda Rights during a routine traffic stop, do you have to speak?  And should you?

Miranda Rights: Facts and Myths

Because of their prevalence in Hollywood creations, Miranda Rights, which are sometimes called Miranda Warnings, are plagued with misconceptions and misinformation.

Fact:  If you are being held in police custody, the police must read you your Miranda Rights if they want to question you and use your responses as admissible evidence in court.

Fact:  If you are not in police custody or being interrogated, your Miranda Rights do not have to be read to you.

Fact:  If you have not been placed under arrest, a police officer does not have to read you your Miranda Rights, but can still use your remarks as evidence in court.

Myth:  If police officers do not read you your Miranda Rights, the charges against you will be thrown out in court.  The only scenario in which evidence becomes inadmissible due to a failure to read the Miranda Rights is one in which the victim was held in custody and questioned by law enforcement.

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Miranda Rights and Traffic Stops

The two basic conditions that require a reading of your Miranda Rights are:

  1. Being held in police custody.
  2. Being interrogated by the police.

If you have been halted for a routine traffic stop, you are obviously neither in custody nor under interrogation.  Therefore, the police do not have to read your Miranda Rights, and anything you say can be still used against you in court.  So how much — or how little — should you reveal to the officer making the stop?

Every U.S. citizen’s “right to silence” is upheld under the Fifth Amendment.  This right to silence guarantees that, unless the officer has probable cause for suspicion (e.g. injuries resulting from an assault, erratic driving under the influence of narcotics), you do not have to answer any questioning.  However, traffic stops are an exception to the right to silence.

During a traffic stop, it is customary for the police to ask stopped drivers for their identification, usually in the form of your driver’s license and vehicle registration.  The officer may ask questions related to the stop (e.g. asking why you were going so fast if you were speeding).  In most scenarios, you could simply invoke the right of silence and ask to speak with a lawyer.  However, if a driver refuses to speak during a traffic stop, they may find themselves in violation of “failure to make identity known,” which can lead to an arrest.

The bottom line is this:  you should always be polite and courteous to police officers you interact with.  If the worst happens, a cooperative attitude can help you later in court.  However, while you should be respectful and compliant, you should avoid giving out any information beyond what you are explicitly asked about.  If you do speak to the police during a traffic stop or other routine matter, you should be aware that unless you are being interrogated and held in custody, your Miranda Rights do not have to be read to you — and that doesn’t mean your answers to questions “don’t count,” either.

If you have been stopped for a New Jersey or Pennsylvania traffic violation, the defense attorneys at Young, Marr & Associates handle matters involving speeding tickets, license suspensions, moving violations, reckless driving, and DUI/DWI.  Contact us online right away to schedule a free consultation with a traffic violation lawyer.

 

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