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What Are My Rights When Being Stopped By Police?

A police officer on foot in front of a squad car, holding up one hand in signal for driver or pedestrian to stop; being stopped by police.

For many people, being stopped by the police can be an uncomfortable or even scary experience. Whether the situation involves being pulled over while driving or stopped as they make their way down a sidewalk, having a police officer’s attention focused on them may make many feel as though they have done something wrong, even when they know they have not. Many having this unsettling experience find themselves wondering, What are my rights when being stopped by police? Knowing your rights and understanding how they apply is essential to enjoying the Constitutional protections they afford. If you have more questions regarding your rights, or if you believe your rights may have been violated by police when they stopped you recently, an experienced New Hampshire criminal defense attorney with Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC may be able to assist you. Call (603) 707-4800 to discuss the specifics of your circumstances and learn more about your legal rights. 

What Are Some Reasons Police Might Stop You?

What are my rights when being stopped by police? An individual’s rights are generally the same regardless of why police are stopping them. However, understanding why the individual is being stopped is important because it can change the tone of the interaction. An individual may feel defensive if they are being stopped for a traffic violation, whereas they may be grateful if they are being stopped so they can turn around and avoid a flooded road ahead. Those feelings can make a huge difference in what happens between the officer and the individual being stopped. 

Some reasons an officer may stop someone include: 

  • The officer believes they witnessed the individual committing a traffic violation
  • The individual’s vehicle has defective safety equipment, such as a headlight or taillight that is not working
  • The officer wants to warn the individual of a dangerous situation ahead
  • The individual’s vehicle matches the description of one used in a crime or reported to 9-1-1 as driving dangerously
  • The individual may have witnessed a crime

Do You Have To Roll Down Your Window for Law Enforcement?

Some drivers question whether they must roll down the window when stopped by law enforcement. They may be concerned about illness, particularly after the pandemic, or they may be concerned about safety. There is no law that specifically states that individuals must roll down their window when stopped by a police officer. However, New Hampshire Motor Vehicle Code, RSA 265:3 does state that individuals must comply with any lawful order or direction of any police officer with authority to direct, control, or regulate traffic. The law specifies a fine of $100 for failure to comply. If the officer asks the driver to roll down their window, and the driver refuses to lower the glass, the driver could be seen as deliberately choosing not to comply, and thus be accused of violating RSA 265:3. 

Drivers in New Hampshire should also consider that while there may be no law that specifically addresses whether they need to put the window down, refusal to do so when asked has the potential to create the conditions for an adversarial interaction between themselves and the officer. What might have started out as a simple warning or ticket may now become more complicated because the officer may suspect that the driver is attempting to hide something (such as the smell of alcohol or marijuana) by not putting the window down. For purely practical reasons, as well, putting the window down can make the interaction much easier and faster by allowing clear communication and the passage of documents. 

Do You Have To Give Your ID to Police?

While there is no law that says a driver must put down their window, there is a law that indicates drivers must hand over their identification. TNew Hampshire Motor Vehicle Code, RSA 265:4 states that a driver must produce their driver’s license and vehicle registration when law enforcement asks for them. The same statute also indicates that the driver must allow the officer to take physical possession of those documents for closer examination. This law further states: 

  • Upon request of the officer, drivers must provide their name, date of birth, address, and the name and address of the owner of the vehicle, if they are not the owner. 
  • Drivers may not give false identifying information to the officer, nor may they give any other false information if it would hinder the officer’s investigation. 
  • Drivers may not refuse to sign documents if requested by the officer.

Refusal to give a law enforcement officer their ID and/or vehicle registration can result in the driver’s license being suspended. Drivers can also be charged with a class A misdemeanor for refusing to hand over their licenses. If you are facing a license suspension or misdemeanor charge for refusing to provide a law enforcement officer with your ID, an experienced criminal defense attorney from Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC may be able to assist you. 

What To Say When a Cop Asks You Where You Are Going

A seemingly innocuous question such as “Where are you going?” may sound harmless enough. However, when an individual is wondering, What are my rights when stopped by police? even harmless questions can be potential pitfalls. One right that individuals have when stopped by police is the right to remain silent. This means that the individual does not have to tell the officer where they are going or coming from, what they are doing, or other information regarding their activities, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Additionally, individuals are not required to consent to a search of their physical person, belongings, or vehicle in the absence of a warrant.

Such refusals may frustrate the officer, so it is important that individuals keep their voice and tone quiet, calm, and respectful when declining. Individuals should also keep their body language calm and relaxed. This may help avoid escalating the situation.

Can You Record a Police Officer if You Are Stopped?

Videos of law enforcement in a variety of situations have been plastered all over social media as well as shown on television news in recent years. There are frequent arguments over whether or not it is legal to record such situations. According to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (a jurisdiction which includes New Hampshire) in the case of Glik v. Cunniffe, the First Amendment covers an individual’s right to record government officials when they are in public spaces. This includes law enforcement officers carrying out their duties in public, such as traffic stops. A possible exception to this general rule might arise if recording interferes with the officer’s ability to do their job. As long as the individual does not interfere with the officer doing their job while recording, however, in most cases they cannot legally be stopped, nor can the officer take their phone, camera, or memory card, or delete any recordings or photos taken. 

Do You Understand Your Rights When Stopped by Police?

The rights listed here are not exhaustive. When an individual is wondering What are my rights when stopped by police? they may wish to seek information tailored to their specific circumstances by speaking with an experienced New Hampshire criminal defense attorney. The unique circumstances surrounding each stop may influence which Constitutional rights apply, or which ones may have been violated. If you have been stopped by police and are concerned about your rights, consider scheduling a consultation at Friedman & Bresaw, PLLC by calling (603) 707-4800 to go review the circumstances of your case and ensure you understand your rights. 


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About the Attorney
Jesse Friedman

Jesse has personally represented thousands of clients throughout the State - from juvenile delinquency offenses through homicides. He has extensive trial and litigation experience and has obtained favorable outcomes for thousands of clients throughout the years.

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