As the passenger in a vehicle you may feel safe and free from any type of problems, especially those that could occur during a traffic stop. However, it is important to understand your rights as a passenger – they may not be what you think. If you are traveling in a vehicle with a driver and are stopped by law enforcement the driver as well as any passengers may be detained. Any time the driver is pulled over the passengers are not simply free to leave. In most cases the vehicle (along with the driver and passengers) are considered to be “seized” by the police for purposes of the traffic stop.

What Happens During a Traffic Stop?

A traffic stop may be made for a simple problem such as speeding or failure to signal. Many times a simple traffic stop turns into much more after the police stop the vehicle. If the police think that you may be driving under the influence or may have weapons in the vehicle they will need to investigate further. This can involve the passenger if, for example, drugs are found under the passenger’s seat or in your pocket. The police only need probable cause to search a vehicle and that often doesn’t require a warrant. Law enforcement is allowed to search various areas if he or she feels there is probable cause to suspect illegal activity. Police may search the vehicle including under seats and inside the trunk. Additionally, they may search the people in the vehicle as well as their belongings such as purses and backpacks. If the police believe there may be an illegal substance in the car they may employ a trained dog.

What to Do During a Traffic Stop

If you are a passenger during a traffic stop you should follow a few basic rules. Remain calm and allow the driver and police officer to interact without interference. Do not do anything that could be negatively perceived by the police. For example, trying to hide drugs, alcohol, or weapons will be noticed by police and will get you into trouble. Remain in the car until the officer asks you to exit. Be respectful of the officer. If you are placed in a police vehicle do not speak while there – keep in mind that there may be a video camera recording you. Many people think that the driver is responsible for everything that happens in the car but it isn’t always true. A passenger is held responsible for any illegal substances that are found in his possession or nearby.

Defending Against Charges as a Passenger

If you have been arrested as a passenger in a vehicle it will most likely be due to drug, weapon, or alcohol charges. As with any arrest, it must be performed legally and your rights must be read to you. Passengers can defend these charges by challenging the initial traffic stop as well as the search of the vehicle that lead to the arrest. For these reasons the charges may be thrown out. Choose a defense attorney with experience handling these types of cases. The attorney will review all aspects of your case to determine the best way to proceed and how to defend your rights to achieve the best possible outcome.