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Is it Your Right to Remain Silent During a Traffic Stop in SC

  • As personal injury attorneys in Rock Hill, South Carolina, we know that even some of the most common legal encounters, such as routine traffic stops, can raise questions. For example, anyone who has watched a crime drama on television has heard police issue the warning, "You have the right to remain silent," to a suspect. But does this right apply during a traffic stop?

    If a police officer stops a driver on the road, it is because of a perceived criminal or civil infraction. A traffic stop allows the officer to investigate the possible offense, collect information (including driver's license and vehicle registration), and issue citations as necessary. It is unconstitutional (Delaware v. Prouse, 1979) for an officer to stop a vehicle for the sole purpose of checking documents, so if you are stopped by the police, you can assume that the officer suspects you of an infraction.

    With this in mind, many drivers are tempted to invoke their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in order to avoid making self-incriminating statements. According to the ACLU, both drivers and passengers do have the right to remain silent during a traffic stop. Neither police officers nor prosecutors may use a person's silence in this situation to assume of guilt. However, if the officer perceives your silence as resisting arrest or obstructing his/her duties, it may become reasonable suspicion and lead to further detainment or a search of your person or vehicle.

    If you choose to invoke your right to silence during a traffic stop, make this clear to the officer by stating so aloud. You might say, "I invoke my Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination," or "I would prefer to speak with my attorney before saying anything else."

    In short, drivers in South Carolina do have the right to remain silent during a traffic stop, but it may not be the best course of action. If you have been stopped by the police while driving and have questions about your rights, contact the experienced attorneys at Lewis Law Firm today. If your rights have been violated, or if you would like to build a defense before appearing in court for a traffic infraction, we can help you take your next step in the right direction.