We recently received a heartfelt email and question from one of our members that really spoke to us:
Dear Texas Legal,
My daughter is 16 and is just taking driver’s education to get a learner’s permit. We are both minorities of mixed race. We have seen so many stories about police stops gone wrong or young teens incarcerated for life when they are wrongly accused or taking a plea deal because they are told to plead guilty. I am at a loss in protecting my child. Don’t get me wrong – I teach my daughter right from wron and about making choices that could have life altering circumstances, but where do I go to find out laws to protect her and myself?
For example, can a police pull you over and tell you to get out of a car without probable cause?
Should me or my child get out of the car?
What are the appropriate directions to follow if we get stopped?
If my child gets arrested for being accused of something becuase maybe she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, what are her rights?
All states are different, so I don’t want to do a google search and get different information. I honestly do not know and never has my high school, college or master’s degree ever prepared me for these life occurrences, but I do know they can happen.
Looking for guidance and a place to research.
Respectfully a worried mom, Monica XXXXXXX
Given recent events, Monica is right to be worried about her daughter’s safety, and we applaud her proactiveness in asking questions and finding answers. We reached out to Houston attorney Ashton Adair, who has helped many members with traffic stops and ticket cases as a Texas Legal network attorney, for his expertise in answering his question.
Unfortunately, Adair says, finding answers to these questions isn’t easy because it depends on where you live and how laws there are interpreted.
“There is no single place to get an answer to this question,” says Adair. “The state and the federal government have laws that protect citizens from unreasonable police intrusions, but they also have laws which give police authority under certain circumstances. These laws are also subject to interpretation which is ever evolving.”
Monica then asks a question which many people wonder about: Can a police pull you over and tell you to get out of a car without probable cause?
“Yes,” says Adair. “An officer only needs ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a law has been broken, including traffic laws, to pull you over. An officer is allowed to ask you to step out of your car to pat you down for weapons and for officer safety.”
Because many police videos have shown disturbing actions when a person is asked to get out of the car, Monica wants to know if she or her daughter are required to get out of the car if the officer asks her to or if she should. Adair says they definitely should follow directions, including getting out of the vehicle if the officer asks you to.
“If the officer asks you to get out of the car, the situation can escalate into a violent one if you do not get out of the car,” says Adair.
If you get stopped, Adair says be prepared to show the officer your license and proof of auto insurance with the name of the driver on it. He emphasizes the importance of being polite in your interactions.
“Always be polite and remember that the officer may be worried about his or her safety as well. Comply with the officer’s requests as best you can,” states Adair.
Adair emphasizes that the vast majority of the time, these stops do not result in violence. But during a stop is not time to argue about a ticket, even if you think you think it is unfair.
“You will have a chance to argue about it in Court when more people are there to assure that you are treated fairly,” says Adair.
In court, you can also have an attorney by your side. Texas Legal memberships cover attorneys for incidences such as traffic stops or jail release.
“Even if the officer for some reason wants to take you to jail, do not resist. Go with the officer politely,” says Adair. “You will be able to bail out of the jail and again fight the case in court.”
If her daughter were arrested, Monica wonders what rights her daughter has and how to educate her on what to do if she finds herself in this situation, like being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Adair emphasizes that her main rights immediately are the right to remain silent and be bailed out of jail.
“Later, she will have the right to a fair trial by a judge or jury, the right to confront her accuser in court and the right to subpoena witnesses to testify on her behalf,” says Adair. “ On the street, however, the only right she can exercise is her right to remain silent, other than needing to identify herself and show her ID.”
Adair emphasizes teaching your daughter that while a situation may seem unjust at the moment, the best and safest way to fix the injustice is the court system, not confronting the officer.
“Texas is still a very conservative state, and they still give officers a lot of power on the street. However, once in Court, she will have more rights to defend herself,” says Adair.
Adair empathizes with Monica’s worries, but stresses the importance of remaining polite and cooperative during the incident and seeking legal advice afterwards.
“I know it can be stressful to be confronted by the police,” says Adair. “However, if you are polite and cooperative you should get through the encounter physically unharmed, even if the officer is rude and mean.”
Many of the incidents caught on camera may soon lead to change in local, state and national laws, says Adair.
“The laws may soon change to give people more rights on the streets, but for now the only way to deal with the reality of being confronted by an officer who has a firearm is to cooperate for the time being.”