The supermarket checkout isles are awash in tabloids whose existence depends upon us believing that what is in print must be true. They do a great business. The same is true for many sites on the internet giving advice about what to do when stopped by police. These sites, written by legal-eagle wannabes, have one thing in common. You can almost always count on them to get you into trouble.

Believing the tabloids about who is smooching whom probably won’t have any practical impact upon your life. But if you believe some of the myths on YouTube videos about what you should do during a traffic stop, you can find yourself in handcuffs (the kind which don’t involve smooching).

A motorist in my area made the news recently when he declined to provide his license & registration. He insisted the officer tell him why he was stopped first. The officer refused to answer and repeated the demand. It went downhill quickly. The driver was pepper sprayed and arrested.

The case is pending. The officer was suspended. There are issues of false arrest, improper procedure, excessive force and free speech (the case began with the motorist allegedly giving the officer the middle finger). For our purposes, the question is whether one has to provide an officer with your license and other documentation during a traffic stop.

The answer is simple: You MUST provide your license, registration and proof of insurance. Vehicle & Traffic Law (VTL) § 401 (4) specifically identifies your driver’s license and auto registration as documents which must be produced to an officer. VTL § 1102 states no person shall refuse to comply with any lawful order or direction of a police officer. Whether the order is lawful or not will not be settled on the roadside by arguing with the cop. The Court will decide.

On the federal level, the Supreme Court just spoke on this issue. In a 6 to 3 decision, they held “…ordinary inquires incident to a traffic stop…” include “…checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobiles’ registration and proof of insurance.” Rodriguez v. US, No. 13-9972 — Decided April 21, 2015.

The videos on YouTube with motorists trying to stymie the police may be fun to watch, but they should come with the warning label: “Don’t try this at home”. When stopped by the police, you must produce your license, registration and insurance card. You do not have to answer other questions or agree to a search of your car (although you cannot use force or the threat of force to try and stop a search). In my next post, I’ll write more about what to say and what not to say to the police if you are stopped.

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