16. October 2013
When drivers are stopped by the police in Germany for a spot check, they are often unsure of their rights and obligations. Should you cooperate, or should you refuse all police requests? Can you lie? We offer advice on police spot checks.
When may spot checks take place?
Police spot checks are sanctioned by § 36(5) of the German Highway Code. The police are permitted to conduct random spot checks in order to establish that a driver is on the road legally. This includes checking that the driver is fit to drive and that the vehicle is roadworthy.
Must I cooperate?
When the police conduct a spot check, you are obliged to stop the vehicle, to exit the vehicle if required, to give your personal details and to allow the offices to examine the vehicle.
- Stop and exit the vehicle
If the police give a signal for you to pull over, you must stop nearby. If you fail to stop and continue driving, you risk being fined or receiving points on your licence.
You are also required to exit the vehicle if requested to do so.
- Personal details
If required to do so, you must give your personal details to the police.
You are not obliged to show your passport or ID card. This is because you are not required to keep either of these documents with you when in public. However, if you decide to show one of these documents, you will make it easier for the police to establish your identity and it could save you time.
In contrast, you are obliged to carry your driving licence and vehicle documents with you at all times.
- Vehicle roadworthiness
During spot checks, the police are permitted to check whether a vehicle is roadworthy. This includes examining the lighting on the vehicle, the depth of the tread on the tyres, the validity of the MOT and whether a warning triangle and first aid kit is on board.
The authorities are, however, not permitted to search the vehicle or go through a driver’s bags. To do this, the police generally require a search warrant obtained from a judge.
If the police do not have a warrant, they may only search the boot of a vehicle if there are exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances include the need to prevent evidence from being destroyed as a result of a delay in obtaining a search warrant. In addition, an officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.
A police officer’s general professional experience is insufficient to support such a reasonable suspicion. Neither may a police officer use the refusal to open the vehicles boot as a grounds for suspicion.
Sometimes the authorities will use small tricks to gain a quick peek in the boot of a vehicle. They may, for example, ask the owner of the vehicle to show that they are carrying a warning triangle or a first aid kit.
May I lie?
You are permitted to lie to the police provided you do not incriminate another person. Examples where you may consider telling a white lie is when you have only had a small amount of alcohol to drink and therefore know that you are well below the drink-drive limit.
If you tell the truth, you may provoke the officers into undertaking a more thorough and time consuming examination.
You have the right to remain silent!
You should always remember that you have the right to remain silent. With this in mind, you should avoid getting into a general conversation with one of the officers and you should definitely not say anything about the charges against you.
All too often, drivers attempt to appease a traffic officer by being truthful, in the hope that the officer will be lenient. Here is an example: “I know I was speeding officer, and I am truly sorry”.
This kind of statement counter-productive as it shows that you knowingly committed driving offence. It is also considered an admission of guilt, making it difficult to defend against later criminal charges. Furthermore, an eventual fine could be increased if the officer becomes convinced, through your admission, that you intentionally committed a driving offence.
Even here, police officers are not averse to using little tricks to get a driver to admit their guilt. For example, the officer might casually ask, why you think you have been stopped. In this situation, it is advisable to say that you do not.
If you are stopped at a police spot check, it is generally advisable that you give as little information as possible.
Remember! You are not obliged to incriminate yourself. You should orally object to any measures taken by the police to collect evidence. At a later stage you can raise a formal legal challenge, if you think that illegal measures have been taken.
If you have nothing to hide, the pragmatic approach would be to follow the police’s instructions, as it generally means you will be able to continue your journey sooner.
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Categories: Road Traffic Law