It’s happened to nearly everyone: you look in the rearview mirror and realize the red and blue flashing lights are aimed at you. From minor traffic infractions to more serious cases, being pulled over by the police, no matter the situation, causes panic. It is important to know your rights if this happens to you.

In Illinois, an officer must have reasonable suspicion to pull someone over, a standard that comes from the Fourth Amendment.  Reasonable suspicion means that a reasonable police officer would be generally suspicious of some illegal activity, ranging from a traffic violation to a more serious offense. [1] For a traffic infraction, this could mean swerving over a division line, speeding, or failing to make a complete stop. [2]

An officer trying to search your vehicle or require you to submit to a field sobriety test must meet a higher standard known as probable cause. This means the officer must have specific things they can point to that give them a reasonable belief to suspect that you have committed a crime. [3] In these cases, an officer may request to search your vehicle, ask you to complete a roadside sobriety test, or arrest you.

If an officer requests to search your vehicle, you have the right to refuse; however, the officer may then detain you for a reasonable amount of time until a canine unit can be brought on the scene.  The officer may also seek a warrant from a judge. [4]

If an officer stops you because they believe you have been driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you have the right to refuse to complete field sobriety tests. [5] The officer is still able to arrest you, and a refusal to submit to sobriety testing will activate an automatic suspension of your license. [6] [7].

If you are in any of these situations, the first thing you want to do is maintain a calm attitude.  Answer any questions about your identity, such as name, age, and address.  For any questions pertaining to a suspected crime, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer any questions without an attorney present. [8]  If you are being asked any questions that could incriminate you, you should politely tell the officer that you are not comfortable talking further until an attorney can be with you.  Many people mistakenly think that they should always try to talk to an officer when being asked questions, but this can often cause more issues down the line if you end up being charged with a crime. Anything you say in an officer’s presence may be used against you if you are ultimately issued a ticket or charged with a crime. [9] Although being stopped by an officer may cause you anxiety, it is important to remain calm.

For more information and help about handling a traffic violation or criminal charge, please contact Sherer Law Offices at (618) 692-6656.

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[2] Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)


[4] 625 ILCS 5/5-403

[5] 625 ILCS 5/11-501.2

[6] 625 ILCS 5/1-197.5

[7] id.

[8] Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

[9] id.