2020 has been an incredibly stressful year for just about everybody. Two of the biggest issues that have arisen this year have also led to various questions that we had not really thought about previously – the COVID-19 pandemic and incidents of police misconduct. In particular, many people are wondering whether a police officer can make a person roll their window down or remove their mask. We want to discuss these issues.
Rolling your window down
The issue of rolling your window down when you have been approached by police, whether during a traffic stop or while you are in your vehicle at some other location, has always been complex. You will see many people say that you do not have to roll your window down at all and that you can communicate with the police officer through the closed window. The reality is that you should roll your window down enough to talk to an officer and easily pass documents to them. In most cases, a traffic stop is made after a violation of law has occurred (usually a traffic violation). Failing to cooperate with law enforcement could significantly escalate the situation. Failing to roll a window down enough to communicate with the officer could be viewed as a threat to public safety.
However, always keep in mind that you have the right to refuse to let police officers search your vehicle if they should ask. You do not have to answer any questions that could cause you to incriminate yourself. Your best bet, when approached by a police officer who asks you to roll your window down, is to do so, be polite, and use common sense.
What about your mask?
Now that face coverings are fairly universal throughout the United States, this does present some new challenges to both law enforcement personnel and civilians. In the vast majority of circumstances, it will not be necessary for a police officer to ask a person to remove their mask. In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, police officers should look at the totality of the circumstances when considering asking someone to remove their mask. Before the pandemic, it may have been reasonable to suspect that a person wearing a mask indoors would be trying to conceal their identity for some reason. However, that is no longer a reasonable suspicion.
Using the new norms, police officers need to consider:
- The nature of the call
- Whether a person is carrying out routine tasks
- Whether a person is acting in an articulable suspicious manner
If you are asked by a police officer to remove your mask, it is well within your rights to ask them why they are giving the order. If it is something as simple as them trying to ensure that you are not a suspect they are looking for, you could ask them to maintain social distancing while you lower your mask.
It is unlikely that the police are going to walk around and simply ask people to take their masks off for no reason. You may very well think you have a right to keep your mask up, even when asked to take it down by the police. However, if the police are in the middle of conducting a law enforcement action, they may actually arrest someone for refusing to comply while they determine their identity. If this happens to you, you should say nothing other than to ask for an attorney.