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Video Transcribed: Hello, I am Oklahoma attorney, Brian Jackson. I work with the criminal defense attorneys at Wirth Law Office in Oklahoma. I wanted to talk a little bit about an interesting case that came across my bench recently as a municipal judge. It involved an individual who identified with the Sovereign Citizens’ political movement.
I want to talk specifically about an argument that was raised. And this was an interesting argument, albeit an incorrect argument. It had to do with the idea of the right to free travel between states. This particular individual had argued that because of this right that he couldn’t be ticketed for not having appropriate registration on his car under the city ordinance.
Long and short of it is that is an incorrect reading of that right. You do have a right to travel freely between states and within states under federal law. However, the right is just that. It’s the right to travel. It does not necessarily involve a specific right to operate a motor vehicle upon a public roadway, which is, generally speaking, under the law considered a privilege.
Now, you do actually have rights though when you drive on a public road anywhere in the country, or more specifically in the state Of Oklahoma. Among those rights are the police can’t just stop you for any reason they want. They have to have probable cause or reasonable suspicion actually for a stop.
They have to have reasonable suspicion to believe that you have violated some law. In other words, you broke a traffic law or there’s something about your car that gives them suspicion, reasonable suspicion that there may be a criminal activity to justify a stop.
Also, you have a right against self-incrimination, even when you’re driving. The scope of that means that if they ask you, for example, “Do you know why I stopped you?” You’re not obliged to tell them that you were doing 90 miles an hour in a 40-mile hour zone, in fact, just as a for instance. In fact, you don’t even have to answer that question under law.
Furthermore, you also have another right when you’re in your car, and that’s the right against being searched unreasonably. Now vehicle searches, when it’s on a roadway, do not generally require a warrant. However, the officer will have to develop probable cause to justify a search. Situations, where they can’t search you, would be things like if it’s a traffic stop, for example, for speeding. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have the right to search your vehicle.
Now, you can, of course, waive that right if you consent to a search. But if they’re simply stopping you for a traffic violation, generally speaking, again, unless there’s something about your car to suggest to the officer, either that there’s probable cause to believe that you have like contraband in the vehicle or something illegal in the vehicle or some evidence of illegality in the vehicle, or they have reason to believe that there’s some kind of a threat in the vehicle, like a weapon, that they need to search and seize.
A lot of people get in trouble with vehicle stops though, because they have something illegal in plain view. It sounds really dumb, but it’s actually a lot more common than you think. But you’ll see situations where somebody gets stopped and they get busted because there’s like a smoking apparatus right there in the ashtray, or there’s a bunch of baggies of green leafy material or powders or something like that, or even something as stupid as a crack file on the floor. Yes, those do happen. That situation, yes, you’re going to get in trouble.
You’re probably going to get arrested and your car is definitely going to get searched because that falls under a rule called the Plain View Exception. Basically, if the police see something that’s evidence of a crime in plain view, for example, drugs or evidence of illegal possession of drugs, then they’re allowed to seize that, and they’re allowed to search the immediate vicinity of that item for other evidence of criminal activity or other contraband. If you want to avoid that, don’t have suspicious items in plain view in your car. Better yet, don’t have stuff that’s suspicious or illegal in your car period.
Most people though, when they get in trouble at traffic stops, it’s not because of plain view. It’s not because of the cop developing probable cause. It’s because they dig themselves into a hole. They will start by making stupid statements like, “Oh, gee. I’m sorry, officer, I was speeding.” Don’t do that. Or thinking, Aah, I have nothing to hide, so I’m going to consent to this search. Don’t do that. On the search thing, here’s the point I would make to you.
Unless you can sit there and say with 100% certainty that you know exactly what’s in your car, and you know with 100% certainty that there is no contraband in your vehicle, nothing illegal, nothing that could be seen as evidence of a crime, then you should not consent to a search.
I would venture a guess that the vast majority of you watching this video can’t say with 100% certainty that there’s nothing in your car that would either, A, be illegal outright or, B, could be construed as evidence of potential criminal activity or, C, could be considered a weapon that could still potentially get you in trouble and get you detained. And because of that, the golden rule does not consent to searches.
Another thing to think about, along the same lines, as far as talking to the police and making statements, some people are under the mistaken impression, “Well, if I just come clean, they’ll cut me a break.” Cops have very little discretion when it comes to most types of violations unless it’s something pretty minor. Otherwise, whether or not you get charged is going to be up to the prosecuting authority. In the case of a city ordinance violation, it’ll be the city prosecutor.
In the case of a more serious state law violation, you’re talking about the district attorney gets to make the decision as to what you’re charged with. Cops really don’t have a lot of say as to whether or not you’re going to be charged or what crime you might be charged with.
They can recommend, but at the end of the day, the prosecutor makes that call. So, if you are led to believe by an officer that, “Well, cooperate with me and it’ll go easy on you,” don’t buy that because it is a trap and you will get jammed up.
Bringing this back around, these are some of the rights you have that do apply when you are operating a vehicle on a public roadway. You’re not at the mercy of the cops. Yes, you can be regulated and your use of the road is conditional to some degree. Certainly, if you’re operating a motor vehicle, there are certain conditions that you have to comply with to do so lawfully. But the cops can’t stop you, search you, or detain you with impunity.
If you have more questions about your rights as a motorist or as a citizen in general, you should go to makelaweasy.com and contact us because we’d love to help you out and give you any advice that we can.