I-TEAM: Legal experts weigh in on drivers’ rights after video shows questionable traffic stop

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM is getting answers from legal experts on your rights as a driver -- one day after we told you about a Navy veteran who claims JSO Task force members handcuffed him, illegally searched him and his car, before letting him go.

The I-TEAM has been getting a lot of feedback from viewers about what drivers should and shouldn’t do during a traffic stop -- ever since Braxton Smith shared cell phone video of his recent interaction with police. We asked lawyers what rights drivers have while police conduct their investigation.

Smith said his encounter with JSO Task force members scared him from start to finish.

“It made me feel humiliated,” Smith said.

WATCH: Braxton Smith traffic stop

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office officers cuffed and searched him, but did not charge him with a crime.

“They got me in the backseat and asked me questions about drug related things, which I have no inkling of, and after that, they just let me go,” Smith said.

Smith claims he was racially profiled, and while JSO investigates the allegations, we wanted to know more about drivers rights in a situation like this, and what motorists should and should not do.

“In these communities sometimes people are getting pulled over daily, weekly, and I can’t help but obviously empathize with that, but it’s important to stay control,” Defense Attorney Lauren Prater with The Modern Law Group said.

Prater said your first interaction during a traffic stop with police shouldn’t be a verbal one, but instead when you first notice law enforcements flashing lights behind you, respond with flashing lights of your own.

“If you’re in an area that you don’t feel safe, slow down, turn on your hazard lights, so you acknowledge to the police officer that you’re not fleeing, you’re not running or hiding anything,” Prater said. “Because that’s an easy situation to go from something minimal to something extremely significant in a short period of time.”

Once you’ve pulled over, you have the right to start recording your interaction with police in your car. But lawyers say it’s important to be careful not to let your cellphone interfere with a police investigation.

″Propping your phone up, having it in your lap, that’s fine, but if the officer says show me your hands, the last thing you want to do is put that phone in the officers face, or taunt the officer because that’s a battle you’re not going to win,” Prater said.

In Smith’s case, Smith said JSO task force members searched his car without his consent, and even turned off his cell phone. Lawyers suggest a driver never consent to a search of their vehicle, but if you are asked to get out of the car, officers do have the right to pat down your clothing if they suspect your carrying a weapon.

Drivers do not have to answer questions about where they were born, whether they are a U.S. citizen or how they entered the country. You have the right to remain silent. Lawyers say stay calm and comply with the officers commands, even if you believe the officer actions are wrong.

″If an officer stops you for reasonable suspicion or a traffic violation, or if they’ve seen you commit a violation, you do have to comply with his order,” Prater said. “You can’t just say no I don’t want to, but any good officer should tell you why they are stopping you.”

News4JAX also spoke with criminal defense attorney Randy Reep, who says it’s never a good idea to get out of the vehicle during a traffic stop unless the officer tells you to.

If you are arrested or detained, Reep suggests you say that you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. You don’t not have to give any explanations about where you’re going, or offer any excuses for your actions.

About the Author:

Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.