Understanding Traffic Stops
What do you need to know about traffic stops in the Muscogee Creek Nation? I’m Ted Hasse, an attorney practicing in federal and tribal courts in eastern Oklahoma. This is part one of a series discussing what you need to know about traffic stops within the Muscogee Creek Nation reservation.
This is directed at Native Americans, members of federally recognized tribes, but can be applied to non-Native Americans as well. Note that this applies whether you’re pulled over by Lighthorse Police, the police force for the Muscogee Creek Nation, or by law enforcement from other agencies within the Muscogee Creek Nation.
Jurisdiction and Law Enforcement Agencies
First, let me address jurisdiction. In most cases within the Muscogee Creek Nation’s reservation, if you’re pulled over, it’s probably not by Lighthorse Police. They have a small police force and mainly operate around Okmulgee, the capital of the Muscogee Creek Nation.
You’re likely pulled over by city police in Tulsa or sheriff’s deputies from the counties. Almost every law enforcement agency within the Muscogee Creek Nation has a cross-deputization agreement with the nation, allowing law enforcement agents from those counties and cities to enforce Muscogee Creek Nation laws.
So, can they pull you over if you have Muscogee Creek Nation or Cherokee Nation plates? Probably yes. The best approach is to cooperate, be polite, and sort out any jurisdictional issues later.
Interactions with Law Enforcement
When law enforcement approaches your vehicle, they may tap the back of your vehicle to leave their fingerprint in case you try to flee. It’s a standard police procedure. They’ll come up to your window and often ask, “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
Never answer this question; it’s an interrogation tactic. Many people unknowingly provide incriminating information in response. Instead, when asked, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” respond by asking, “Why did you pull me over?” This way, you can find out directly what they believe is the issue. They must have a valid reason to stop you, such as a broken taillight or speeding.
At this point, they can request your ID, insurance, and registration. One note: there are two schools of thought regarding your window. You don’t have to roll it all the way down, but doing so can help avoid provoking the officer. It’s your choice. Personally, during a stop, I roll my window all the way down, hand over my documents, and refuse to answer any questions to avoid assisting in any investigations.
I’ll continue this series, and I hope you’ll keep following. I’m Ted Hasse, reachable at (918) 947-6552. If you have a legal issue within the Muscogee Creek Nation, feel free to call us.