I don’t know anyone over 21 who has not been pulled over by the police. Many folks know how to handle situations when they are pulled over by a police officers. Most are brief and routine stops involving speeding tickets or other minor violations. Yet, some people do not know how to behave and/or might be doing something illegal.
When a police officer begins to pull you over, what you do and say can have a huge effect on any legal proceedings that might follow. Whether the traffic stop ends in a simple moving violation or an arrest for a more serious crime, your choices are critical.
1. Police Car Behind You
If a police car is following you with its blue lights flashing, pull over to the right quickly (but safely) and come to a complete stop in a safe place. Use your turn signal to indicate any lane changes from left to right and pull over as far to the right as possible. This way, the officer won’t have to worry about being hit by vehicles in the right lane when coming up to your window.
Pulling over right away isn’t an admission of guilt. It just means that you were alert to everything that was happening around you. Also, by stopping as soon as you can, you’ll have a better chance of figuring out exactly where and how the officer says you violated any traffic laws. This information can be useful should you and a lawyer later need to prepare a defense.
2. The Stop
After you’ve pulled over to a safe spot, you should normally turn off your engine. At this point, you might want to show the officer a few other courtesies. Being polite never got someone arrested. Rudeness will cause an assortment of problems on the scene and later on.
Roll down your window all the way. You might also want to place your hands on the steering wheel, and, if it’s dark, turn on your interior light. These actions will tend to put to rest any fears the officer might have. Many police officers have been killed in traffic-stop situations, and the officer’s approach to the vehicle is the most dangerous moment.
Stay in the car until and unless the officer directs you to get out. Also, don’t start rummaging through your back pocket for your wallet and license, or in your glove compartment for your registration, until the officer asks you for them. This can be viewed by the officer as reaching for a weapon or trying to hide contraband.
3. Searches
A police officer who stops you for a traffic violation is normally not allowed to search your vehicle. But there are several exceptions to this general rule that would take over 1000 pages to discuss.
The officer may ask for consent to search or, in DUI cases, for a serious of field sobriety tests. (HGN, walk and turn, one legged stand, etc.) You never have to consent to a search or perform these voluntary field sobriety tests. It is your choice.
However, after pulling you over, an officer will watch for any sort of “furtive movement.” A sudden lowering of one or both shoulders, for example, will tip the officer off that you’re attempting to hide something under the seat. This, coupled with other factors like incriminating items in “plain view” (like open beer or wine bottles, marijuana cigarettes, or 5 different cell phones) may convince the officer that he or she has probable cause to search. Do not resist or complain. The legality of the detainment and search can be analyzed later.
4. Talking to the Officer
Being hostile has led to many a problem with police officers. Problems can also occur when saying more than necessary.
You should generally let the officer do the talking, responding where appropriate. For example, when asked to hand over your license, registration, and proof of insurance, you should say something like, “Okay,” or, “Sure,”, “Yes sir”, or “Yes ma’am.”
It can be tough to know exactly what to say to an officer’s queries, but trying to “talk your way out” of a speeding ticket or DUI will not work. The more you talk, the evidence you provide.
Remember, the video is recording you and the officer during the traffic stop.
5. Talking to Your Lawyer
Simple traffic violations often don’t require the assistance of an attorney. More serious accusations, like a charge of driving under the influence or possession of drugs, often do. If you want to know how the law in your state applies to your situation, consult an experienced criminal defense attorney in your general area. A knowledgeable lawyer can determine whether there might be a basis for a motion to suppress evidence and otherwise guide you through the process.
Law enforcement officers are under assault by vicious people and organizations. By following the above guidelines, your traffic stop encounter can be safe, of minimal duration, and leave both parties with a sense of calm and safety.