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Traffic Arrest FAQ

Most traffic stops for driving offenses do not end in an arrest. Usually, the police officer issues a simple traffic ticket for the infraction, and the driver carries on with their day.

Yet, an encounter with law enforcement could risk an arrest under some circumstances. An arrest at a traffic stop can risk jail time, fines, and your driver's license. Learn how to prevent a traffic arrest and what to expect if the police arrest you for a traffic violation.

Here are frequently asked questions about traffic arrests.

When does a traffic stop lead to an arrest?

State laws often list traffic violations that trigger an automatic arrest of the driver. In other cases, suspicious or uncooperative behavior during the traffic stop could prompt police to arrest you or a passenger.

Traffic violations that commonly lead to an arrest include:

A police officer checks a stopped driver's information against the law enforcement agency database. They will arrest you if they discover an existing warrant for your arrest. Signs suggesting you might be involved in a crime can also give them enough reason to interrogate you further in police custody.

What if the traffic stop was illegal?

It is usually wise to comply with the police officer in the moment because you can challenge the stop in court later. Knowing your legal rights can help protect you at a traffic stop, but you may still be arrested.

Police officers have sometimes infringed on drivers' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizure. However, proving this infringement can be complex.

The court may drop the criminal or traffic charges against you if you prove the stop was illegal. The court may also strike the arrest from your record.

Can the police arrest me if I remain silent?

Depending on the circumstances, you could face an arrest if you fail to communicate at a traffic stop. Your right to remain silent differs from being uncooperative.

The right to remain silent refers to your Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination. For example, if an officer asks you whether you knew you were speeding, you do not have to admit guilt. You can refuse to answer some kinds of questions directly.

Yet, drivers must follow specific procedures at a traffic stop. You can't ignore an officer's instructions and questions entirely. Providing your driver's license and vehicle registration is necessary. Failing to do so can lead to an arrest.

Instead of silence, staying polite and calm is usually a better tactic. You can refuse to answer questions by responding neutrally or telling the officer you can answer after speaking with an attorney.

What happens to my vehicle after a traffic violation arrest?

Law enforcement officers can tow and impound a motor vehicle, even if someone else owns it. Some states require the police to seize your vehicle based on the traffic offense. Otherwise, another driver you know may take the car and hold it for you.

The police may also conduct a vehicle search. After your arrest, there can be enough probable cause to search your car reasonably. You could face additional criminal or traffic charges if your vehicle contains evidence of a crime or traffic violation.

Can the police sell my car after arresting me?

Serious traffic offenses can risk a vehicle forfeiture. This process allows the court to sell the car and retain the money.

Fortunately, drivers and vehicle owners often have a way to get their cars back. For example, North Carolina can return a vehicle to an owner or arrested driver if they are not guilty of the offense and complete a petition.

If you face losing your car, timing matters. Vehicle forfeiture could occur before your defense trial in some scenarios. An experienced attorney can help you fight your traffic case and recover your car.

What if I don't attend my court date?

Failing to show up for your court appearance can lead to more legal consequences. The court may order your arrest again and deny bail. A court date for a traffic violation is no less serious than one for a criminal offense.

Whether you face a misdemeanor or a felony, your case likely requires more than paying a ticket. You must obey a court summons for your arraignment, during which you may plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty to the traffic violation.

Courts typically offer flexibility for a legitimate issue like a major illness. However, you must communicate promptly with the court to reschedule your court date.

Does a traffic arrest lead to license suspension?

Not all traffic arrests take away driving privileges. The risk of license suspension depends on multiple factors, such as:

  • Traffic Violation Type: DUI arrests usually suspend driver's licenses automatically.
  • State Law: Each state has unique laws about suspending or revoking licenses.
  • Your Driving Record: The state is more likely to suspend your license if your prior traffic citations show a pattern of poor driving.
  • Your Legal Defense: Winning a not guilty ruling can prevent the consequences of your arrest.

The effects of license suspension often cascade through other areas of life, such as getting to work. Getting legal counsel after a traffic arrest is wise if this penalty could be on the table.

More FAQ About Arrests

For additional information about traffic stop arrests, you can read FindLaw's related articles for topics such as:

An arrest is a serious legal matter regardless of how clean your criminal record may have been before the traffic stop.

Seek Legal Support for Traffic Stop Arrests

A traffic stop can quickly escalate. A traffic law or criminal defense attorney can offer more protection the sooner you contact them.

Your lawyer can help ensure the police respect your rights during and after the arrest. They can also examine the traffic stop details and guide you toward the best possible outcome.

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