In Maine (or throughout the United States, for that matter), the police cannot stop your vehicle for no reason. Further, if they do conduct a traffic stop, they can't do whatever they want – there are regulations, rules, and laws they must follow. And when the police don't follow proper procedures, the traffic stop may have been conducted illegally. Here's what you need to know about traffic stops in Maine.
You Have Rights During a Traffic Stop in Maine
The first thing to keep in mind whenever you hear the sirens wailing behind you and you pull over is this: you have rights. Below is a summary of what those rights are.
- You have the right to remain silent. If you want to exercise this right, politely tell the police you wish to remain silent and not answer questions.
- You have the right to a lawyer if taken into custody. If you are arrested, you can immediately request a criminal defense attorney.
- You have the right to ask if you are under arrest, and if not, you have the right to ask if you are free to leave. If you are allowed to go, do so without causing any problems or disturbances.
- You have the right to refuse consent to a search of yourself or your vehicle. If you give consent, then the officer can check your person or anywhere in the vehicle for any items that may be unlawful.
- You have constitutional rights when arrested – and this is true regardless of what your citizenship status is.
If any of these rights are violated, the traffic stop may have been unlawful. If you are subsequently charged with a crime, whatever evidence obtained from an unlawful traffic stop can be excluded as evidence.
The Police Must Follow Certain Protocols During a Traffic Stop in Maine
As mentioned above, the police have certain rules to obey to initiate and conduct a traffic stop. Here is an overview of the same.
- A police officer cannot pull you over for a traffic stop unless there was reasonable suspicion a crime was committed. This crime could have been something as simple as a minor traffic violation, like swerving. The one exception to this rule is if the officers are conducting sobriety checkpoints (but again, here, the police must follow certain protocols or else risk an unlawful checkpoint stop).
- Once you are pulled over, the police cannot search your person or vehicle without your consent or without a properly obtained and properly administered warrant. The police can, however, pat down your clothing if, for instance, a weapon is suspect.
- The police must not arrest you unless they have probable cause of criminal activity.
- The police must also read to you Miranda warnings once you are taken into custody.
If your rights are violated or if the traffic stop was otherwise performed unlawfully, you should contact a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer in Ellsworth.
An experienced attorney will be able to assess the facts and determine if a violation occurred. If your rights were violated, a motion to suppress the evidence can be filed with the court, and if granted, then all the evidence flowing from the unlawful traffic stop can be excluded from trial. That alone can be a significant factor in a dismissal of the charges or an acquittal at trial.
So, always contact a lawyer to discuss your specific case and the circumstances around the traffic stop.