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Sandra Bland’s contentious encounter with the officer has left many wondering what exactly they have the right to do when pulled over and, realistically, whether it’s wise to exercise those rights. Sandra Bland recently died tragically after three days in a Texas jail. A video released by the Texas Department of Public Safety captured a portion of the confrontation between Bland and a police officer after she was pulled over on July 10 for a routine traffic stop. The situation had escalated quickly, leading to the forcible arrest of Bland, and culminating in her untimely demise.

Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist, said to CNN, there’s a bigger question to be examined about what one can or should do during a traffic stop.

Earlier this year, his son, who is black and a chemistry student at Yale University, was detained by police at gunpoint allegedly because he matched the physical description of a burglary suspect.

There’s an “incredible amount of discretion” that officers are allowed, he said.

An officer can allow a lot of leeway or be incredibly harsh, Blow said, “and all of that can be legally justified.”

Sandra Bland’s contentious encounter with the officer has left many wondering realistically what are their options. Whether it’s wise to exercise their legal rights.

Everyone has a right to remain silent says Time magazine. You must provide your license, registration, insurance, and name, when asked. And there are some states where you are required to answer basic identifying questions (name and address) by the police. But you’re not required to give a statement beyond that. You can simply say, “I choose not to answer that question.”

Time goes on to explain, you do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your car. There are many situations in which the police will pull someone over and ask—often casually—whether the driver would mind if they “take a look” inside the car. But you don’t have to give that permission. Keep in mind, however, that if the police have probable cause to search your car, or if you’ve been placed under arrest, they can search you, and sometimes your vehicle, whether you give your consent or not.

In the video, Sandra can be heard requesting for an attorney. If you are arrested, you have the right to ask for an attorney and should do so immediately says Time. If you have only been stopped temporarily, you’re not entitled to an attorney at that point.

However as the wiseman, Mu says when faced with a difficult situation it is best to play possum. Even if your rights have been violated, you’re not going to argue your way out of the problem. It’s also always a good idea to make sure the police can see your hands, and that you don’t make sudden movements, interfere with what the police are trying to do, or give false statements. In other words, don’t give the police an excuse to mistreat you or pile on additional charges.

Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...