Traffic Violations Law
What Should I Do If I Am Pulled Over by the Police?
Driving along the highway, suddenly, you are startled by the sight and sound of flashing red lights and sirens in your rear-view mirror. You’re being pulled over. Your heart rate picks up, your hands start shaking, and you rack your brain wondering what you did.
Although it is hard to think clearly in this type of situation, what are some common items you should remember as the police officer approaches your car? Remember, a police officer must have some sort of legal basis or reasonable suspicion to pull you over. Get legal advice about your rights from an experienced traffic violation attorney when facing a traffic violation.
If a police officer pulls you over, stay calm and make sure you are polite and courteous. But remember that just because you were stopped does not mean you’ve done something wrong. Don’t be afraid to ask the officer if you can have a moment to call a criminal defense attorney who could provide you with legal advice and arrange to be present during or prior to the officer’s questioning.
Here are five ways you can protect your rights and have a better experience when pulled over by law enforcement during a traffic stop:
- Pull over as soon as possible and park your car in a safe place like a parking lot or on the side of the road. Failing to pull over could lead to felony criminal charges. When you pull over, turn your car engine and radio off and the interior lights on.
- Have your vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and driver’s license information ready and politely hand it over when asked. If you have these items, but just not in your car, politely ask the officer if you could have time to get the items to the police officer at a later date.
- Be calm, courteous, and polite, to the police officer. While you can assert your rights, being rude, making sudden movements like quickly reaching under a seat or in the glove compartment, or using physical force (unless you are trying to defend yourself) will make the experience much more difficult.
- Don’t be bullied into saying or doing something you do not feel is safe or appropriate. Remember that you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to give your consent to allow a police officer to search your car or cell phone. You can ask the officer if they have a search warrant, and you can ask to see the warrant. With no warrant, you do not have to agree to a search. However, a police officer seeing items in plain view, like an open container of alcohol or certain drug paraphernalia, can serve as probable cause to search your car.
- Document the stop to support your defense. Documentation can include taking your own pictures or video with your cell phone. If taking notes, write down the time, date, any witnesses, the conditions outside, and what you and the officer said.
While it is important to be calm and respectful toward an officer to avoid charges like resisting arrest or obstruction of justice, you also need to be assertive and remember that you always have rights. You don’t have to answer any questions beyond providing your name and handing over the proper information, and you can ask for a lawyer to be present during questioning. If you are under 18 years old, you can always ask for a lawyer or your parent or grandparent to be present during questioning, even at the scene of a traffic stop.
If you are polite, courteous, and have updated insurance and a valid driver’s license, an officer will consider the facts of your case. If you don’t have a history of traffic violations and appear to be taking the police officer seriously, they may let you go with a warning. However, you truly never know what is going to happen when pulled over, so it is important to calmly exercise the advice above. While you should comply with an officer’s instructions, remember that you also have a right to be treated appropriately and professionally, and should not be the subject of unwarranted physical violence by an officer.
Some traffic violations, like failing to provide proof of insurance, or driving with an expired registration can be considered criminal offenses, and you can face penalties like fines, driver’s license suspension, and even jail.
If you are facing a traffic ticket, it never hurts to research or ask for a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney, who can help you understand the traffic laws and penalties that you may face, evaluate the appropriateness of the police encounter, and craft a defense that protects your interests.