Know your rights during a traffic stop

If a law enforcement officer pulls over your car, he or she must follow certain legal procedures. For example, you can decide whether to consent to a search of your vehicle.

Wisconsin motorists should be aware of their rights during a traffic stop by the police.

Probable cause for search

State law allows officers to search vehicles as long as they have probable cause to do so. However, a traffic violation alone does not constitute probable cause. Examples of probable cause include contraband left in plain sight, the odor of contraband material or an admission of criminal action by the driver.

Racial profiling

Stopping motorists because of their race, skin color or ethnicity is against the law in Wisconsin. If you suspect you are the victim of racial profiling, you should contact the state police office in your region immediately to make a report of your concerns. Be sure to document the officer’s patrol car number, badge number and department. If others have witnessed the incident, ask for their names and contact information.

Breath tests

Drivers in Wisconsin automatically consent to a breath or blood test if an officer suspects they are driving under the influence. Refusal to take this test may result in penalties above and beyond the state’s OWI penalties.

The right to remain silent

You do not have an obligation to speak to the police during a traffic stop, nor do passengers have to speak. If the officer asks you questions, simply and politely state that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent. For example, he or she may make potentially incriminating inquiries such as “have you had anything to drink tonight?”.

If he or she arrests or detains you, ask to call an attorney. Do not sign or agree to anything without a lawyer present. Otherwise, you can ask whether you are free to go. Your passenger can also ask the officer whether he or she is free to leave the scene.