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Do you have to answer an officer's questions when pulled over?

The Raleigh Police Department has posted a video online showing a simulated traffic stop in order to provide guidance to motorists about what to do if they're pulled over by an officer. In the video, motorists are told that they should answer any question the officer asks.

However, as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out, no one is required to answer all questions they're asked by an officer. The North Carolina driver's license handbook states that motorists are required to identify themselves when asked to by an officer. It doesn't say that they're obligated to respond to other inquiries.

Just last year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation mandating that the DMV update their guidelines for motorists who are stopped by law enforcement. One of the sponsors of that legislation said that he hoped the revision would minimize the chances of a misunderstanding between an officer and a motorist that could result in a tragic shooting, as too many routine traffic stops do.

An attorney with ACLU North Carolina, however, thinks the guidelines need to be even clearer. She's calling on the state DMV commissioner to clarify some of the language in the handbook, including this sentence: "Your cooperation with law enforcement is the best way to ensure that your safety, and that of others, is not compromised during the stop."

She asserts that the DMV should remove that and a couple of other sentences that "together...seem to suggest to drivers that it's their duty to respond to officers' questions and that will ensure their safety," An alternative, she suggests, is to state specifically that motorists don't have to say anything beyond identifying themselves.

When people are detained by law enforcement officers under any circumstances, it's easy to forget what constitutional rights you have and do whatever is asked of you. It's important to be able to assert your rights, but in a manner that's respectful and non-threatening. If you believe that your rights were violated, it may be wise to seek legal guidance -- particularly if you're facing criminal charges or a traffic citation.

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