Understanding Your Rights: Step Out of Vehicle
This is part four of what you need to know about traffic stops in the Muscogee Creek Nation. My name is Ted Hasse. I’m an attorney practicing in federal and tribal courts in eastern Oklahoma. What we’ve gone through is the initial stop, what you need to provide the officers. We talked about not answering questions and then we just talked about questions directed toward passengers. Again, I just want to emphasize if you’re a passenger you do not have to identify yourself and you invoke your right to remain silent. Both the driver and passengers need to not answer questions for law enforcement. They’re just there trying to interrogate you and they’re trying to build a case against you.
Now I want to briefly pause at this point and talk about a place where people have a misconception about what their rights are and what the police are allowed to do and that’s around asking drivers and passengers to step out of the vehicle. I see videos over and over again where individuals during a traffic stop, you see the body cam videos, are being asked to step out of the vehicle and they start saying to the officer, well why? I don’t have to do that. Lawyers get this wrong too. There’s a thinking of a retired judge who was confused about the rights of individuals stopped. Some people think they have to have probable cause or meet some other legal requirement once there’s a stop in order to remove you from the vehicle. That is completely wrong. Here’s what you need to know.
Supreme Court Ruling on Police Authority to Remove People from Vehicles
There is an issue here where this isn’t settled within the bounds of the Muscogee Creek Nation. However, there is persuasive authority with the Supreme Court and this applies across the country in every jurisdiction other than tribal nations. There’s a Supreme Court case on point about this. Once the police have a basis for a legal stop and once you’re legally stopped, they can pull everybody out of the car and they can pull everybody out of the car without any further investigation or any further evidence of any issue. The reason laid out in that Supreme Court case was for the safety of the officers. They can check to see if people have weapons, that sort of stuff. They don’t have to prove anything else.
Understand, if an officer asks you to step out of the vehicle, just get out of the vehicle and comply. Your rights, we’ll sort that out down the road. People are misunderstanding what’s the case when they say, no, officer, you got to tell me a reason you got to do this. They don’t have to do anything like that. Now, Muscogee Creek Nation Supreme Court has not settled this. It is, without getting too deep in the weeds, Native Americans within tribal reservations have essentially the same rights as we see within the Bill of Rights through the Indian Civil Rights Act. The Muscogee Creek Nation Supreme Court has not settled a lot of things. But I think since they would take U.S. Supreme Court cases as persuasive and so would the trial court, I think that tribal nation members who were stopped in the Muscogee Creek Nation need to assume that police have the authority to ask them to step out of the vehicle for any reason or specifically for their safety without providing any additional justification to the person being stopped.
Protect Your Rights and Find Expert Representation
So I wanted to emphasize this point because, you know, I think when you’ve been stopped and you’re starting to assert your rights and saying, officer, I don’t want to answer these questions, that’s the point at which officers, unfortunately, are more likely to start sort of escalating things and saying, well, then get out of the car, right? You’re not going to answer my questions. I’m going to pat you down. It’s too bad and it’s unfortunate that some officers can be bullies like this. But, you know, taking everything as a whole, you are better, you know, you’re probably going to be better off protecting your rights by refusing to answer questions and risking potentially having a bully cop decide to pull you out of the car and pat you down or something like that.
If you or a loved one is facing any criminal charge in Muscogee Creek Nation or any other tribal nation, you’re going to want to find good expert representation. I’d be happy to talk to you. Again, my name is Ted Hasse. You can call us at (918) 947-6552 and I’d be happy to talk to you.