Can a Police Officer Order You to Exit the Vehicle During a Traffic Stop?

June 15, 2016

Yes. In New York State (and, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, pretty much everywhere in the US) a police officer can order the driver and all passengers out of a vehicle during a stop for a traffic violation if the officer believes it necessary to protect his or her safety.  However, the officer should also take the driver’s and/or passenger’s safety into account before deciding whether to ask someone to exit the vehicle or remain inside until the stop is over.

For the most part, officers will generally allow (or require) occupant’s to remain inside the vehicle during a basic traffic violation stop for everyone’s safety. But if an officer has any reason to believe he or she may be in any danger they will most likely clear the vehicle. From the time the officer makes the determination to stop a vehicle until the time the stop is concluded and the vehicle released, the officer will be keeping a sharp eye out for “furtive movements” from vehicle occupants. A “furtive movement” can generally be described and any movement observed by an officer that is not justified or reasonably anticipated under the circumstances; basically, sneaky or suspicious movement. One of the most common examples is an observation by an officer of a vehicle occupant bending over or disappearing from view entirely (possibly to place something under a seat, or worse, remove something from under a seat) after the officer initiates the stop sequence. The officer’s first thought will be (and under the circumstances, MUST be) that the occupant either hid or retrieved a gun or other weapon. Even if the movement was to simply hide a small bag of weed, the officer will have no way of knowing that during the first few second of the stop, which is all it takes for someone to pull a gun and fire.

Keep in mind that asking you out of the car does not, standing alone, justify a search by the officer of you or your vehicle. If it is simply common practice for a particular officer to ask everyone he stops to exit their vehicles, then that’s all it is. There still has to be a reason to justify police intrusion in the form of a search of you or your vehicle. Something that looks like the grip of a gun sticking out a little from under a seat? That will do it.  A few credit cards sitting in the back seat with a different names on them? Yep. The odor of marijuana, burnt or not? That’s a favorite of law enforcement. And obviously the odor of alcohol is a no brainer. Basically, any evidence of a possible crime or contraband in plain view of the officers will not only get you an invitation out of the vehicle, but you’ll probably also have to reorganize the contents of your car if/when you get it back.

So if an officer asks you out of your vehicle during a routine traffic stop, your best bet is to just comply if you can. Don’t argue. Don’t ask a million questions. Don’t insult or offend the officer. They’re not trying to give you a hard time. This is a person who risks getting shot and possibly killed during every citizen interaction they have over the course of a shift. Cut them a little slack. And the more you do resist or object, the more clear it becomes that you may be hiding something, and the whole interaction can take a drastic turn for you.

If you have been issued a traffic ticket after a traffic stop, or worse, been arrested, call skilled and experienced DWI defense and criminal defense attorney Todd W. Carpenter, Esq., of Catalano & Carpenter LLP at (845) 454-1919 today for a free consultation.