Man being searched by police

Traffic Stops and Pat-Down Searches

If you have been pulled over by a police officer for a minor traffic violation (e.g. your light is out), and the cop tells you that he or she wants to pat down your body in order to ensure his or her own safety, do you have the right to say no? Here’s what to know about traffic stops and pat-down searches in New York.  

Pat-down Searches

In most cases, in order for the police to be able to search your home, they require a warrant. But when it comes to searching your person (body) during a traffic stop, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes a police officer is allowed to search you or. Your vehicle –even without a warrant. This is called a “warrantless pat-down” or “warrantless vehicle search.” However, it’s important to understand that in order for a police officer to have the legal right to conduct either of these types of searches, it generally requires reasonable suspicion that you or another occupant of your vehicle pose a safety threat to the officer. 

Reasonable Suspicion 

An officer may make this determination if he or she finds that you are acting in a questionable or suspicious manner. For instance, if you have placed your hands under your seat, an officer may fear that you could be reaching for a weapon and that his or her safety is at risk thereby demanding a search of your person and your vehicle. However, it is also important to note that in order for a police officer to search the trunk of your vehicle, it requires separate reasonable suspicion; belief that there is something dangerous or illegal in there. 

Short of reasonable suspicion, an officer does not have the legal right to search you or your vehicle – unless he or she has your consent. You have the right to refuse such a search if asked. Additionally, if an officer begins to search you or your vehicle without your consent, you have the right to tell them that you are not consenting to it. And since most police officers now wear body cams, it can be helpful to have your lack of consent on record – especially if he or she discovers something that can be used against you. 

Keep Your Composure

One of the best things that you can do is remain polite to the officer and demonstrate that you pose no risk to their safety if pulled over. By rolling down your windows, turning on the light in your vehicle, turning off your engine, and then keeping your hands in plain sight (usually on the steering wheel) it can be helpful in demonstrating that you are not a threat. Should the officer ask to see any documentation, such as your license and registration, it is important that you let the officer know where it is located before reaching for it. Always try to remain polite – even if you feel frustrated or that the situation is unfair or unjust. 

The New York Attorneys at Macedonio & Duncan, LLP Can Help

If you have been charged with a crime, or if you believe that your rights have been violated in an illegal search or seizure, a qualified criminal defense attorney can help. 
The Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at Macedonio & Duncan, LLP can help you to obtain the best outcome. We understand the gravity of what is at stake and can help you to gather the necessary evidence and build a case to help you receive the most optimal outcome. To learn more or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact us today!