Practically everyone, at some point in his life, will get pulled over by a police officer while driving. The experience can be nerve-wracking: loud sirens and blue and red flashing lights in your rear-view mirror can shake you to your core when you’re driving on the highway, singing along to your favorite playlist, and snacking on some chips.
In those moments, even the most calm and charming individual may get tongue-tied and nervous. Below are some simple tips on how to handle these encounters:
(1) Keep In Mind That The Officer Suspects You Of Something. By law, the officer has to have a reasonable suspicion to pull you over. Most often, the officer may simply suspect you of a traffic violation. Sometimes, however, the officer’s intent may be to search your car for narcotics or see if you are a suspect in a more nefarious crime.
(2) Keep Your Hands Where The Officer Can See Them. Turn down your music while the officer is still in the car, and put your hands on the steering wheel. When reaching for documentation, tell the officer explicitly what you are doing. Better yet, ask for permission. For example, “Officer, my license is in my wallet–may I reach for it?” Remember, you want to present yourself as kind and deferential to the officer.
(3) Be Calm and Polite. Do not raise your voice and do not curse. Do not make sudden gestures and try to keep your facial expression friendly or neutral.
(4) Do Not Give More Information Than Necessary. You must, upon request, provide the officer with documentation of your driver license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. You do not need to provide any further information. Remember, the officer is investigating you. The officer is legally allowed to lie to you about his or her observations and knowledge to enhance that investigation (i.e. “I’ve got you going 80.”) It may just be for a simple traffic infraction, but the officer wants the case against you to be wrapped up with a pretty bow.
So when the officer asks if you know how fast you were going, how many drinks you had before you got behind the wheel, or if there are narcotics or weapons in your car, you can tell the officer, “Sir/Ma’am, I respectfully exercise my right to remain silent.” Be polite, but firm.
Of course, you may choose to tell the officer that you have nothing illegal in the car or you were traveling at the speed limit. But once you engage the officer in a conversation, it looks more suspicious if you want to stop answering questions.
Do not discuss your immigration status with the officer. Do not attempt to bribe the police officer. Do not threaten the officer or her job by saying that you or your parent is a prosecutor/chief-of-police/wealthy business person who will get them fired or make their lives miserable if they proceed with the investigation or arrest.
(5) Do Not Give Consent To Search. The officer may want to search your car for some illegal items. Do not give consent.
Tell the officer, “I do not consent to the search of my person or my car.” Be very clear. Do not say, “I really don’t want you to search this car, but if you feel you must, OK.” That is considered consent.
If the officer still persists in searching your car, do not physically resist or impede the officer. If you are released after nothing has been found, feel free to file a complaint against the officer. If you are arrested because the officer alleges contraband was found, you have a better chance of having that evidence suppressed or thrown out because it was found as a result of an illegal search.
(6) Sign The Citation/Promise To Appear. Instead of arresting you, the officer may give you a ticket that, when you sign, counts as a promise to appear. This could be for a speeding citation or if the officer finds a small amount of drugs or other contraband in your car. Not signing this ticket may result in your arrest.
(7) If You Are Arrested, Ask The Officer If Your Car May Be Parked In A Safe Area Or Picked Up By A Friend. Normally, if someone is arrested as a result of a traffic stop, the car is towed, and in addition to the bail, attorney fees, and other expenses, you also have to pay high towing and impound costs. Sometimes, the officers will park your car for you or allow a friend to pick it up. It never hurts to ask.
If you or a loved one has been arrested as a result of a traffic stop, we invite you to contact the Law Office of Maria Belyi for a free consultation.
Please note that this post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.