Lets say you're sitting in a fast-food parking lot eating the food you just purchased from the establishment. Your windows are rolled up and the vehicle is turned off. A police officer pulls into the lot and stops behind your car and turns on his spot light to view the license plate and also block your view with the light. He exits the vehicle, walks up to your window and starts demanding ID. You show the ID without rolling down the window. He starts ordering you to exit the vehicle. He gives the reason of "someone called about suspicious vehicle" or says that you are a "suspicious person" but you are not doing anything illegal, you are positive he did not observe you drive the vehicle at any point, and you are eating food with packing, labeling and logo from the location you are parked at.

Are you legally obligated to exit the vehicle upon request? If so, please state the law/statue that gives him standing.

If not, please explain how a U.S. citizen needs to articulate this fact to let the officer know you are not exiting because you are not legally obligated.

Here is a recent video showing a similar situation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYmpDa1MBdA

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    We are a free people and as free people we have certain rights. These rights are not given to us by any person or government, they were endowed to each by their creator. They can't be voted away by any group of people using fear or under the guise of what's best for the masses. Our rights are not based on what is best for all, our rights are based on what's best for an individual because in America we are an individual based society not a social based society. Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 9:07
  • This doesn't really answer the question. The OP asks for specific legal citations. Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 11:48
  • Regardless of the source of our rights, the government can infringe upon them legally in certain situations, and an investigation by a police officer is one of those situations.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 12:52
  • Can you give the state/jurisdiction this occurred in? Also, are his siren lights on, in addition to the spot light.
    – hszmv
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 16:54
  • A terminological correction about what standing means: "In law, standing or locus standi is the ability of a party to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case." - Wikipedia
    – David J.
    Commented Apr 12, 2021 at 15:55

2 Answers 2


Police are authorized by statutes to carry out the functions of law enforcement. I.e., they are granted by law the authority to:

  • Investigate alleged or apparent crimes
  • Detain and arrest individuals when there exists "probable cause" to believe they have committed a crime.

There are a plethora of details encompassed by these general descriptions. For related inquiries see also:

In the specific example you cite you are in a public place, albeit on private property. If the property owner asked the police to leave they would have to meet a higher statutory threshold to legally remain and pursue their investigation. In practice, however, they may do whatever they want.

Publicized incidents suggest that the best chance you have of ensuring your rights are protected in a police confrontation are to:

  1. Have the incident recorded in audio and video in as detailed a fashion as possible, and seen by as many witnesses as possible.
  2. Avoid actions that could escalate the incident or serve as a pretext for escalation by the police.
  3. Try to get higher-ranking police on the scene.

E.g., if you can safely access your phone you may want to both start video recording and call 911 to ask the dispatcher to send the officer's superior to the scene, while making it clear to the dispatcher that you intend to comply with all lawful requests but that you feel threatened or unsafe.

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    The practical downside of taking this course of action is that there is a high probability you will be arrested. Probably well within the bounds of the law. (Unless your state law is more protective than the Supreme Court was in Pennsylvania v. Mimms or Maryland v. Wilson.) If, on the other hand, you comply and the officer finds no evidence of a crime after you do step out of the car you will very likely be free to go. But, of course, if one wants to stand on moral principle one can. Commented Nov 2, 2015 at 19:53
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    @mostlyinformed there's also a chance that you will be shot dead as you reach for your phone.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 26, 2019 at 12:49

The Supreme Court of the United States has said that police officers may tell driver and any passengers to step out of a vehicle under almost any circumstances. The concerns the Court has articulated are ones of officer safety and preventing possible destruction of any evidence of a crime that may be within that vehicle.

If you refuse an order to exit the vehicle you may be subject to arrest and charge, even if the officer pulled you over in the first place for a trivial offense. Of more immediate concern, if you refuse to get out of a vehicle an officer may conclude that you are a threat and begin escalating the incident to a level where some use of force becomes appropriate to get you out of the vehicle. And be completely within the law in doing so. And that leads to an irony: if I were your stereotypical aggressive, abusive officer* you seem to have in mind in your question I might very well be pleased when someone refused my order to get out of a car; it might well give me legal cover to "extract" you from your car at gunpoint (maybe with a little arguably-unnecessary physical roughhousing thrown-in for good measure as you are dragged out of the vehicle...)

In sum: When a officer tells you to get out of the car, you get out of the car.

*BTW, the vast, vast majority of cops out there serve their communities bravely, stay within the bounds of the law (well, usually), and do not enjoy getting into combat with subjects and using force against them. As with lawyers, priests, doctors, soldiers, professional athletes, or people in a great many occupations there are a relatively small number of bad apples who can have a very-outsized impact on the general reputation of those who work in the occupation.

Edit: Also, in the situation you describe being within a fast-food parking lot rather than driving down the road doesn't make a practical difference. An officer is entitled to enter the premises of a public place of business into which members for the general public are invited for the purpose of conducting a brief bit of law enforcement investigation about one of those members of the public. And, in any event, it would very likely be the fast-food restaurant's privilege to choose to have the cops to leave or not, rather than yours.

  • @KingFish36 Your addition would be better as a separate answer of your own. Please see law.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1486/… more detail. Commented Jul 11, 2022 at 21:42
  • The Court opinion cited in this answer is not applicable to the question because the opinion assumes that the encounter is a traffic stop. If a cop rolls up on a car that has been parked and turned off the entire time, that is not a traffic stop. In that case, you're just a person going about your business, and the police cannot order you out unless they are actually "detaining" you. And to detain you, they need reasonable articulable suspicion that you are committing, have committed, or are about to commit a crime. Eating in your car in a restaurant parking lot isn't enough for that.
    – David
    Commented Mar 9, 2023 at 23:13

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