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Know Your Rights When Pulled Over in California

Published 10/12/2020

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Getting pulled over is never fun and is often a very stressful situation even if you did nothing wrong. Whether you broke the rules or not, it is important to know your rights and if they are being violated during a traffic stop in California.

In the new 2020 DMV California Driver Handbook, a section was added to highlight 6 of your rights during an enforcement stop which we list and go into detail below.


1) “If an officer asks your permission to do something, you have a right to say no.” - DMV California Driver Handbook (2020)

During a traffic stop you have every right to deny an officer’s request to do something, such as search your vehicle. Although if you’ve made it clear that you do not give the officer permission to do something and they say they are still going to do it, you do not have the right to stop them. You may not obstruct or resist the officer and the only thing you can legally do is keep making it clear that you have not and do not give them permission to do something. Basically you can say no to any request but you must comply with any orders.

Also note that simply declining a request does NOT give the officer probable cause to do something anyways. Although resisting, obstruction, or other factors may legally give them the right to search your vehicle.


2) “The driver of a stopped vehicle must produce a driver license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration when stopped by law enforcement.” - DMV California Driver Handbook (2020)

If you do not provide these documents, then the police officer “may conduct a limited search for them.” (DMV Handbook) The officer can also ask for identification of any passengers in the vehicle, although as a passenger you may decline to provide any identification. There are circumstances where you are legally required to give your name or identification as a passenger. This means if you decline first and they demand you give identification you must comply or it will be considered resisting.

An officer may also command you and any passengers to exit or stay in the vehicle and you are legally required to comply with these instructions. (Be careful to note the difference between a question and a command)


3) “In California, only federal law enforcement officers can ask you about your immigration status.” - DMV California Driver Handbook (2020)

Local and State officers are NOT allowed to ask you or your passengers about your immigration status. If you get pulled over by a California police officer and they ask about your immigration you may refuse to answer.


4) “In general, the First Amendment protects the right of drivers and passengers to record interactions with police in public spaces.” - DMV California Driver Handbook (2020)

If you are recording an interaction with a police officer you should make it clear right away that you are recording. If you want to reach into your bag or glovebox in your car to get your recording device then you need to make that clear and get the officer’s permission to do so before reaching for it. 

As with all of these rights, the right to record a police officer does not give you the right to resist or obstruct an officer's duties. As long as your recording is not interfering with the officer and stopping him from his duties then the officer can not confiscate your device or delete any video just because you are recording. You also have the right to deny a request to unlock your phone. 


5) “Even if you believe your rights were violated, you should not engage in physical resistance or violence against the officer.” - DMV California Driver Handbook (2020)

A recurring theme with all these rights is that you may not resist or obstruct an officer from their duties. This also applies to situations where you believe that your rights were violated and does not give you the right to escalate the situation with violence. The best thing to do in this situation is voice any objections you have with their actions and the situation but comply with the officer’s orders and do not physically resist.


6) “All members of the public have a right to file a complaint against any peace officer or law enforcement agency, and it is against the law for any government employee to retaliate against you for doing so.” - DMV California Driver Handbook (2020)

If you want to file a complaint against an officer you may do so without any retaliation against you for doing so. It is also legally required that if a complaint is filed that the department of the officer must investigate the situation. Contact information to all California law enforcement agencies can be found on the DMV website here.



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