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Can You Refuse To Exit Your Vehicle When Ordered?

June 11, 2024

Explore your rights during traffic stops. Learn when police can legally order you out of your vehicle and the potential consequences of non-compliance.

You are heading home after a long day of work. As you approach a familiar intersection, you notice flashing blue and red lights in your rearview mirror. A police car is signaling you to pull over. 

The officer approaches your car, and after a brief conversation, instructs you to exit the vehicle. Can you refuse to exit your vehicle when ordered by police?

You remember hearing conflicting advice about whether you can refuse to exit your vehicle when ordered by the police, especially if you believe you have done nothing wrong. So what do you do?

In this guide, we will explore what the law says about refusing to exit your vehicle when ordered by police, your rights during a traffic stop, and the potential consequences of non-compliance. 

can you refuse to exit your vehicle

Can You Refuse To Exit Your Vehicle If Ordered By Police? 

If a police officer lawfully orders you to exit your vehicle during a traffic stop, you are required by law to comply.

An officer’s ability to order a driver out of their vehicle is supported by the US Supreme Court rulings in Pennsylvania v. Mimms (1977) and Maryland v. Wilson (1997)

In the Mimms case, the Court ruled that police officers can instruct drivers to exit their vehicles during a traffic stop without needing additional probable cause or reasonable suspicion. This authority was expanded in Wilson to include passengers.

It is important to understand that an officer does not need probable cause or reasonable suspicion of another crime to issue this order. Additionally, officers can also instruct vehicle occupants to re-enter the vehicle.

police asking to exit vehicle

What Are The Consequences Of Failing To Comply With An Ordered Vehicle Exit?

If you refuse to comply with a lawful order from an officer, you could be arrested. This scenario assumes the traffic stop itself was lawful, based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause. 

While police need these reasons to initiate a stop, once it is made, they have broad discretion to ensure their safety and enforce compliance from vehicle occupants.

These situations can become volatile quickly, as drivers may perceive the stops as unjust and respond with frustration or hostility. 

This can, in turn, lead to officers feeling threatened and resorting to excessive force, which can result in serious injury or even death. In fact, police have killed over 600 people in traffic stops since 2017.

Fatalities & Legal Consequences Of Refusing To Exit Your Vehicle 

Unfortunately, there have been numerous instances reported in the news where pretextual stops have ended in police brutality.

Genevive Dawes

On January 17, 2017, Genevieve Dawes and her husband, Virgilio Rosales, parked their car and slept in it at an apartment complex. 

The next morning, a resident reported the car as suspicious. Officers arrived and ordered the occupants to show their hands, exit the vehicle, and try to open the locked doors. 

When Dawes started the car and tried to flee, hitting a fence and a police cruiser, Officer Christopher Hess fired twelve shots, killing Dawes. Rosales and Dawes’s estate sued for excessive force, but Hess and another officer were granted qualified immunity.

Daunte Wright

In April 2021, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by Kimberly Potter, a white police officer, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Potter claimed she mistook her firearm for her Taser when she shot Wright. 

The incident occurred as Wright attempted to flee from the officers during the traffic stop. His death sparked widespread protests and renewed discussions about police use of force and racial injustice. Potter was subsequently charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter.

stay safe when getting pulled over

What Are Your Rights During A Traffic Stop?

While you cannot refuse to get out of your vehicle when ordered, you do maintain several rights during a traffic stop:

  • Remain silent 
  • Refuse consent to a vehicle search without probable cause
  • Request an attorney 
  • Ask the officer if you are free to go or if you are being detained 
  • Request the officer’s name and badge number 

For more information on what to do during a traffic stop, check out our complete traffic stop guide. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cops ask you to get out of your car?

Police officers may ask you to get out of your car during a traffic stop for several reasons, including ensuring their safety, assessing the situation more clearly, and preventing any potential threats. 

This action helps officers to maintain control over the interaction and to minimize the risk of hidden weapons or sudden movements within the vehicle.

Do you need to step out of the car?

Yes, you generally need to step out of the car if a police officer asks you to. According to the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in Pennsylvania v. Mimms and Maryland v. Wilson, officers have the authority to ask both drivers and passengers to exit the vehicle during a traffic stop for safety reasons.

Can you refuse to exit your vehicle in Chicago?

No, you cannot legally refuse to exit your vehicle in Chicago if a police officer orders you to do so. Refusing to comply with a lawful order from a police officer can result in arrest and additional charges. It is important to follow the officer’s instructions to avoid escalating the situation.

Is there a difference between asking you and ordering you out of your vehicle?

Yes, there is a difference between an officer asking you to exit your vehicle and ordering you to do so. An “ask” may imply a request that you can refuse, while an “order” is a command that you are legally required to follow. 

Failure to comply with an order can lead to legal consequences, including arrest.

comply with police when getting pulled over

Have You Been Involved In An Unlawful Traffic Stop? 

If you have been unlawfully detained, injured, or harmed in any way as the result of an unjust stop, Jordan Marsh can help.

If you think you or someone you know may have been harmed in any way by an unjust stop, contact Chicago Civil Rights lawyer Jordan Marsh for a free consultation or give us a call at (224) 220-9000.

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