Can You Get in Trouble for Pleading the Fifth During a Routine Traffic Stop?

Many people have heard the phrase “Pleading the fifth” on TV shows and movies, but how many are aware of what it actually means? “The fifth” refers to U.S. citizens’ fifth amendment right that protects them from being compelled to incriminate themselves. When individuals “plead the fifth,” they essentially invoke their right to remain silent so as not to be coerced into saying anything that may be construed as incriminating. When a person invokes said right—whether during a routine traffic stop or a drug bust—that person expects those rights to be upheld. Unfortunately, however, many people are intimidated by officers of the law and so succumb to whatever the police want from them—even it means answering leading questions that could lead to a conviction; and those who do not cave to officers’ demands may still find themselves in trouble, but for a whole different reason—namely failing to cooperate with the law.

A Case of Officer Retaliation

Some officers react angrily when a person refuses to talk, as was the case earlier this year when Lionel Alexander invoked his fifth amendment right and Officer Marciano Garza roughed him up as a result. According to his statement, Alexander was parking his car when Garza activated his emergency lights and asked him for his license and registration. Alexander complied, but when Garza asked him what he had been doing prior to his stop, Alexander refused to answer, invoking his fifth amendment right. Instead of letting matters rest, Garza called backup.

Alexander was asked to exit his vehicle but he refused, stating that he did not believe he was legally obligated to do so. According to reports, police got angry and pulled him from his vehicle and pinned him to the pavement. They cuffed him. Alexander was arrested on the spot for “resisting a search,” and released the next day with all charges dropped. Soon after, he filed a suit for violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Texas Constitution.

Though the court originally dismissed the claim based on the defendant’s immunity, the Fifth Circuit reversed the ruling, citing the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from illegal search and seizure. Though the plaintiff’s claim that he was forced to incriminate himself was dismissed, his claim of police retaliation was upheld.

Know Your Rights

When you are pulled over or ever stopped by an officer of the law, you do not have to say anything beyond confirming your identification. If the officer tries to coerce you into saying anything incriminating, you have the right to Plead the Fifth. That said, know that “pleading the fifth” may be interpreted differently depending on the situation.

For one, “pleading the fifth” may protect you from self-incrimination in the event that you are compelled to say something that may be construed as a confession to a crime. In the second instance, “pleading the fifth” may save you if you have already made an involuntary confession. For instance, if when you are stopped the officer forces you to admit to a crime and then arrests you for said crime, the confession may be suppressed in a later criminal proceeding. In the third instance, “pleading the fifth” may be used to prevent further interrogation. If an officer questions you during a routine traffic stop, you can answer his or her questions so long as you feel comfortable. The moment you begin to feel uncomfortable, you can invoke what is also known as your “Miranda Rights” and remain silent thenceforth. If an officer does not take no for an answer, and if he or she continues to badger or harass you in any way, it can be used against the officer in a civil claim, as was the case with Alexander.

Contact a Skilled Dallas Criminal Attorney for Immediate Help

If you believe that your fifth amendment rights were violated during a traffic stop, do not just assume that the officer was in the right. An aggressive Dallas criminal defense lawyer can subpoena any evidence from the stop, including footage from dash cams and bodycams, and review it for proof that the officer did indeed act out of line. Begin building your case today, and contact Clark Law Group now.

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