Do I Have to Get Out of My Car for Police in Pennsylvania?
Knowing your rights when pulled over by a police officer or other law enforcement agent in Pennsylvania is extremely important. In some situations, you are not required to follow an officer’s demands, but you must comply if they order you to step out of your vehicle during a traffic stop. If you refuse, you can be arrested for resisting or interfering with an officer, which is a first-degree summary offense in Pennsylvania.
Learn more about Pittsburgh traffic stops and what to do if police want you to step out of the vehicle.
Can I Refuse to Exit My Car During a Traffic Stop?
To stop you on the road, an officer must have probable cause or reasonable suspicion that you committed a traffic violation, such as swerving, speeding, or other observable behaviors. Only after stopping you for this infraction will they have the authority to order you out of a vehicle. They do not need a second suspicion or cause to order you to exit the car after they have initially stopped you.
This rule was established in 1997, following the decision of Pennsylvania v. Mimms. In this court case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that officers have the right to order you out of your vehicle and conduct a pat-down, as it is minimally intrusive.
Did the Cops Order or Ask You to Step Out?
There is a crucial distinction between being ordered versus being asked to do something. While you must comply if an officer orders you to exit your vehicle, you can refuse to if the officer phrases their request as a question.
For example, if police ask you, “can you step out of the vehicle for me?”, you are within your right to decline. However, if the cop gives a direct order, such as, “I’m going to need you to step out of the vehicle,” then you have to comply to avoid an arrest. Many times, officers initially ask you to step out before demanding, so pay attention to their phrasing before you respond.
Why Police Might Want You to Step Out
A police officer can order someone out of a vehicle for multiple reasons. Many of them are for safety, and some are for investigative purposes.
When passengers are present, they might order one of you to exit the vehicle at a time so they can hear each individual’s statement without pressure from the others. If Pennsylvania police suspect you of driving under the influence, they might order you to step out of the vehicle to look for signs of intoxication.
If a cop sees your shoulder or arm move downward as they walk up to your vehicle, they may assume you are trying to hide a weapon. In that case, they may demand you step out of your vehicle in order to keep themselves safe and prevent you from concealing anything.
Can Police Search Me or My Vehicle After I Step Out?
A Pittsburgh police officer cannot search your vehicle immediately upon you exiting. They must have probable cause or reasonable suspicion, such as seeing an open container of alcohol, visible weapons, or other observable evidence.
A police officer can conduct an over-the-clothing pat down of you and any passengers after you have stepped out of the vehicle. This is a safety procedure to ensure you have no weapons on you. However, police officers cannot conduct an unreasonable search and seizure of your vehicle, your possessions or belongings, or your passengers’ possessions or belongings.
Pittsburgh Traffic Stop FAQs
Should I get out of the vehicle for Pennsylvania police officers?
Yes. If an officer tells you to exit, you should immediately remove yourself from the vehicle. They will direct you to stand in a safe place while they ask further questions, or search your vehicle if they have probable cause or you have consented to a search.
What are the penalties for disobeying a lawful order?
If you refuse to follow an order to step out of your vehicle, you can be arrested for resisting or interfering with an officer. This is a first-degree summary offense with the following possible penalties:
• Up to 90 days in jail
• Fine up to $250
If you are arrested for not complying in Pennsylvania, it is imperative that you contact an attorney to help defend you against these charges.
What should I do if I think my rights were violated?
If you feel your rights have been violated or you are a victim of police misconduct, we recommend contacting one of our lawyers and scheduling a consultation. Our experienced attorneys can help you determine whether you have a valid case and help you with the next steps in pursuing it.
Can a police officer search the passengers of my vehicle after I exit the vehicle?
No. A Pittsburgh police officer cannot search your passengers unless they have probable cause or consent.
Does the law only apply if Pittsburgh police officers stop me?
You must step out of your vehicle when ordered to do so by police, regardless of where you are. This is applicable to any police officer in the United States and not just those in Pittsburgh.
What happens during a police stop and frisk?
If you are ordered out of your vehicle and subjected to a frisk or pat down, police will ask you to stand aside as they pat the outer surfaces of your body. This is to ensure you don’t have any weapons or other dangerous items on you.
If they discover weapons, substances, or other evidence during a lawful frisk, you could end up with additional criminal charges, such as possession of cocaine or illegal possession of a firearm.
Get Help from a Pittsburgh Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you’re ordered to get out of your car during a traffic stop and it results in your arrest, seek an experienced lawyer in Pittsburgh as soon as possible. The criminal defense attorneys at Worgul, Sarna & Ness, LLC understand what it takes to preserve your rights during the Pennsylvania criminal process and how to get the best possible outcome for you.