Do Passengers Have Rights in Texas Traffic Stops?


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As a passenger in a car, you cede a good deal of control to the person behind the wheel. If the driver chooses to speed, for example, you can find yourself being pulled over through absolutely no fault of your own. If the driver is discovered to have marijuana or another illegal drug in the car with him or her, what are your rights in the situation? The fact is that you do have rights as a passenger, and knowing what they are can help you protect them if the situation arises.

First Things First: Reasonable Suspicion

To stop the driver behind the wheel of the car in which you are a passenger, the police officer needs a reasonable suspicion that the driver has committed either a traffic offense or a crime. The police need a reason to pull the driver over in the first place – they cannot simply pull him or her over because they feel like it or on a whim. It is important to point out, however, that something as simple as a burned-out headlamp is reason enough. The police are also able to stop the driver if they have a credible reason to believe that someone in the vehicle may have been involved in a crime – if the vehicle matches a bank robbery getaway car, for example.

You Are Part of the Stop

As a passenger in the stopped car, it is critical that you know you are part of the stop taking place. This means that you cannot simply pick up your bag and walk away. Further, if the police officer needs to order you out of the car for reasons related to safety, he or she is authorized to do so. This is based on the fact that passengers can present a danger, and restricting a passenger’s movement can help increase the officer’s safety. The bottom line here is that your right to privacy as a passenger in a vehicle that has been stopped must be balanced by any perceived threat to the police officer. Any restrictions the officer puts upon you and your movement must, however, be predicated on the officer’s safety.

Protect Yourself

If you are a passenger in a vehicle that has been pulled over by the police, there are important steps you can take to protect yourself, including:

  • Remain calm, be polite, and do what is asked of you (do not exit the vehicle unless you are asked to do so).
  • Keep your hands visible (you do not want to concern the officer regarding his or her own safety).
  • Do not consent to a search (you are not required to consent to a search, and you are well-advised not to do so).

You Need an Experienced Attorney on Your Side

If you are facing criminal charges, Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen is a dedicated criminal defense attorney who has the experience, resources, and drive to bring your strongest defense in support of your case’s most positive resolution. We are here to help, so please do not hesitate to contact or call us at 254-501-4040 for more information today.

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