New DMV Guidelines Attempt to Clear up What to Do in Stop. Instead, Suggest You Don’t Have Rights

In early January, the General Assembly instructed the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles to revisit guidelines to traffic stops. Although there have been traffic stop instructions in the NC DMV manual since 1972, this gives the department the opportunity to clear up the guidelines. While some of the instructions are helpful, some are there to help the police find things to be used against you.

The Good Tips: Place Hands in Plain view, Don’t Be On Phone During Stop, Call 911 If Question About Unmarked Car Being Police

Placing your hands in plain view will ensure the police officer that you are not holding a weapon. If they see that you are hiding your hands, the officer may fear for their safety. This gives them the excuse to take you out of the vehicle and frisk you. Even if they don’t find any weapon, whatever they find during their search may be used against you, in certain circumstances. If you keep your hands in view, it is less likely that they will fear for their safety and they will need to think of another reason to frisk you or pull you of your vehicle.

Don’t be on the phone during a traffic stop. Let me clarify: Don’t talk on the phone during a stop. But feel free to have someone on the line and listen in. In these times, it’s difficult to say what could happen. You need to ensure your safety.

Lastly, not all police officers drive in fully marked vehicles. If you are unsure if the unmarked vehicle is a police officer, please call 911. Even though it is illegal for regular vehicles to have and use blue lights, that never stops everyone. Calling 911 and asking about the unmarked car will also reinforce the idea that you were unsure as to the identity of the vehicle and that you were not actively running from the police.

The Worst Tip: Cooperation is Key=Tell on Yourself

The guidelines say that an officer may ask you questions, that you should listen, and that “your cooperation with law enforcement is the best way to ensure that your safety, and that of others is not compromised during the stop.” (emphasis added). What are these instruction not-so-subtly suggesting?

Cooperation = confession. The guidelines are saying that you have to answer all of the officer’s questions and that is the only way to ensure your safety. But guess what? You have the right to remain silent! Once stopped, the only thing you have to do is identify yourself and provide your license and registration.

For Safety or For Gathering Evidence?

In criminal law, there is the doctrine of plain view. Plainly speaking, an officer does not need a search warrant if he sees something that is illicit in plain view.

So if an officer shines a spotlight or flashlight into your vehicle, know that he is also looking for any criminal activity. If you turn your interior lights on, he gets a much better view of everything. You reach for your registration while the officer is there? Now, he can see in your glovebox or your compartment where you had your registration. Once he sees something that is immediately apparent as illicit or evidence of a crime, the officer can seize it without a warrant. Then, off to jail you go.

Now you see why they want the interior lights on. Now you see why they want to be present when you get your registration from the glove compartment.

My Suggestion: Public Input

Guess who was consulted when creating these guidelines? The State Highway Patrol, the NC Sheriff’s Association and the NC Association of Chiefs of Police. Now you see why the guidelines are skewed the way they are. The NC Division of Motor Vehicles is a government entity. Guess whose tax dollars are used to run that entity? Yours! YOU should have a say in the guidelines! You should know what your rights are!