Lets face, it we’ve all been there, seeing flashing lights in our rear-view mirror and hearing the scream of the siren. Getting pulled over is a nerve-racking obstacle that has to be endured from time to time. But how do you properly interact with law enforcement officials after being pulled over?
Acknowledge the officer by turning on flashers. To let the officer know that you’ve seen his/her lights and hear his/her siren. This also lets the police officer know that you plan on pulling over. This is also recommended if you think you’ll need to drive a distance before you can find a safe place to pull over.
Pull over to a safe area. Typically, you want to pull over to the right side of the road. When looking for a spot to pull over to, think “safety first” for both you and the officer. Look for an area with a wide shoulder so passing traffic isn’t a hazard. If it’s nighttime, look for place that’s well lit if possible. That will help put the officer at ease. Parking lots and well-lit side streets are other safe places to pull over.
Stay in the car. If you get out of the car as soon as you stop, it may give the impression to the officer that you’re going to be aggressive or you have something to hide in the car.
Turn off your engine and roll down your window. As soon as you come to a stop, turn off your engine and roll down your window. If it’s dark out, turn on your interior lights so the officer can see what’s going on inside the vehicle.
Stay calm. It’s common for you to feel as if your heart sinks in your chest, your palms start sweating, and to be nervous whenever you get pulled over. Take some deep breaths and relax. Unless you’ve done something outright criminal (i.e. driving intoxicated, possessing illegal drugs, etc.) there’s nothing to be nervous about. The worst that can happen during a routine traffic stop is that you’ll have to pay a fine. Remember that the officer is probably nervous too.
Move deliberately. Keep your hands resting on the wheel in plain sight and don’t make any sudden movements. You don’t want to give him or her any reason to believe you’re a threat. Wait for the officer to ask for your documents so they know what you’re doing. Don’t try to expedite the process by getting your license and registration ready while the officer approaches your car. If your documents are somewhere other than your glove compartment, let the officer know that you’ll be reaching somewhere unexpected. After you’ve handed the officer your paperwork, return your hands to the steering wheel. It keeps them visible to the officer.
Be civil. Be polite and respectful in your communications with the officer. Yes, it is frustrating to get a ticket, but calling the officer names, threatening them, or being rude won’t get you anywhere. In fact, it could make things worse. If the officer happens to be a woman, refer to her as “officer” or “ma’am,” not “sweetheart” or “honey.” She’s an officer of the law and deserves respect.
If you plan on fighting your ticket, keep your answers short and don’t directly admit wrongdoing since everything you say to an officer is admissible in court. However, do not lie or give false information to a law enforcement officer, as that could subject you to further charges.
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you from self-incrimination; it does NOT give you the right to lie or deceive law enforcement officers. Regardless of the initial reason for the stop, giving false information to an officer is sure to complicate the situation.
Don’t Consent to Search. You don’t have to consent to a search. In order to search your vehicle without your consent, an officer needs probable cause (i.e. a liquor bottle on your seat or a visible controlled substance). If they don’t have probable cause but want to search your car anyway, they’ll need your consent and may ask you something like, “You don’t mind me taking a look in your car, do you?” Even if you haven’t done anything illegal, it’s usually a good idea to exercise your Fourth Amendment right in this situation and decline the search. Be polite when declining the search but clearly state, “I don’t consent to a search, officer,” loud enough so it gets on the police recorder.
At that point, if the officer believes he has probable cause to detain you and search your vehicle, cooperate with him politely while reiterating that you did not consent to the search. This search can be argued in court later.
Arguments are for the court room, not for the field.
Be safe when merging back into traffic. Take your time to store your belongings before you re-enter traffic. If you’re upset, collect yourself before driving away. When you’re ready, turn on your signal and merge back into traffic.
Contact an attorney. If you received a citation, contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss how to proceed appropriately. Attorneys can often get your charges reduced to avoid costly points on your insurance or license.
Have you been pulled over and need an attorney? Let Surratt & Thompson help you with your Traffic Offenses. Contact us today at 336.725.8323.
Guest author: Emily Sells-Salie, Paralegal