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Know Your Rights

March 1, 2021

With any police interaction, it is vital that you know your rights so as to mitigate the risk of forfeiting them. Even if you properly assert your rights, that is no guarantee that the officer will respect them. If you believe your rights have been violated, contact the Nashville criminal defense attorneys with Baker Associates immediately. When officers fail to adhere to the protections outlined in the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions, evidence gathered from the interaction, and sometimes the case itself, may be thrown out.

Basic Rights
  • You are not obligated to consent to a search of your person, home, or vehicle; absent a frisk for weapons situation. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 26-28 (1968). Meaning officers may “pat” you down to check for weapons during an investigatory stop to ensure there are no weapons within arms.

  • You have the right to remain silent.

  • You have the right to an attorney if you are arrested. The police are not obligated to stop questioning you until you unequivocally demand that you want an attorney. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 470 (1966).

Terry Stop

The police are allowed to conduct investigatory stops, otherwise known as Terry stops. Probable cause is not required, in fact, there need only be a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is taking place. The police may ask you any number of questions, however, you are not required to answer questions about where you are going or where you came from. Many states have stop and identify statutes, meaning you will be charged with a crime for failure to identify yourself when police conduct an investigatory stop. Tennessee, however, does not have a stop and identify statute. If you do not wish to speak with the police, you may verbally assert your right to remain silent, however, from a practical standpoint, the confrontation may end sooner if you cooperate and provide your name.

On the other hand, if the officer is issuing a citation or arresting you, you are required by law to identify yourself and can be criminally punished for not doing so. Tenn. Code Ann. § 7-3-505. If you provide a false name or nickname, you run the risk of being charged with a separate crime. Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-16-301.

A Terry Stop can quickly turn into an unlawful detention depending on the officer’s actions. An officer must have probable cause to detain a person, so if you are subjected to an investigatory stop, the important question to ask is whether you are allowed to leave, thereby placing pressure on the officer to respect or violate your Fourth Amendment rights.

Another aspect to the Terry stop is the frisk. During an investigatory stop an officer is not entitled to search your person; however, the officer may pat you down to ensure you do not have weapons. Terry, 392 U.S. at 30. Obviously this creates opportunity for an illegal search. If an officer is unable to identify a weapon on your person, but asks you what is in your pocket, remember that you have the right to not give evidence against yourself and may assert your right to remain silent. If an officer pats you down and feels what he or she reasonably believes to be a weapon, they are legally entitled to take it. State v. Bridges, 963 S.W.2d 487, 494-95 (Tenn. 1997).

Traffic Stop

When you see the blue lights in your rearview mirror, it is time to quickly and safely pull over. Once you are parked, turn off the engine, turn on the interior light if it is dark outside, then roll down the driver side window part way. Making sudden movements, such as reaching for your driver’s license prior to the officer asking for it, could lead the officer to believe that you are reaching for a weapon. Instead, the driver should keep his or her hands on the wheel and any passengers should keep still and hands visible. You are required to show the officer your ID if you are pulled over based on probable cause that you committed a crime or traffic violation. Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-104.

In order to initiate the traffic stop, the officer must have probable cause or a reasonable suspicion that a violation has occurred. Once pulled over, an officer may ask you and other occupants to step out of the car for safety reasons. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977). If you are stopped based on a traffic violation and you are not under arrest, the officer may ask for consent to search your vehicle. YOU ARE NOT obligated to grant police permission to search your vehicle.

An officer may search your vehicle without a warrant if there is probable cause or if the search is incident to a lawful arrest. This is not open season for warrantless searches of vehicles as the trunk and glove compartment are off limits without a warrant or exigent circumstances. If you believe that your vehicle was searched unlawfully, contact an attorney.


If you are arrested during a traffic stop, the officers may search your vehicle for evidence of the crime you are being arrested for. Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 351 (2009). For example, if you are arrested for DUI the officer may search the cab of the vehicle for evidence of alcohol or drugs.

If you are arrested, remember that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. If you do not want to speak to the police, tell them so and do not answer any questions. The only other statement you should make is “I want a lawyer”.

Information contained herein is for general purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.