What do I do if I get pulled over?
Updated: Oct 30, 2020
One of the most stressful situations a person can experience is seeing those blue and white lights flashing in your rearview mirror when you're driving. It's normal to feel intimidated when this happens, but remember that you do have constitutional rights. I hope that this blog post will help you learn the information you need to feel empowered to advocate for yourself.
The first thing I can say is that you must stay as calm as possible (or at least appear that way outwardly). Be respectful but not overly chatty. Being familiar with your rights in advance will help you to navigate this in a more calm manner. An important general tip for all: keep your hands visible at all times to the officer and if you have to reach for your license and registration, say out loud that you are reaching in your glove box to retrieve your registration. Refrain from making any sudden movements at any time. Traffic stops are dangerous and police are on edge. Keep yourself safe by remaining calm.
You have the right to pull over in a safe area.
Sometimes when you first see the lights and hear the siren, you are not in an area that seems safe to pull over. If this is the case, simply continue driving (at the speed limit) to a secure, well-lit area where you will be in plain view.
You have the right to ask why you were pulled over.
A great deal of the time, the police officer will ask you first if you know why you were pulled over. Understand that the motivation behind this question is multi-layered.
1) It puts the ball in your court without the officer having to come right out with an accusation (which could cause immediate hostility)
2) Often, the driver will become nervous and inadvertently admit to additional offenses. For example, perhaps you were stopped for a broken tail light but when the officer asks you if you know why you were stopped you reply, "because I was texting?" Now they have an admission without having to do much at all.
3) They are establishing the ask-answer flow of conversation to aid them in their investigation.
4) By asking you the open-ended question initially, the officer is able to observe your body language and evaluate your personality based on how you answer the question. They can also establish whether you are slurring your words based on how you speak.
With all that said, always be aware that anything you say during the traffic stop can be used against you in a court of law. The truth of the matter is that you can never be 100% sure of why you were pulled over exactly. You can speculate or have an inkling, but that isn't equivalent to actually knowing.
You have the right to know your Miranda rights if you are arrested.
Ever watched Law & Order? If so, you are probably familiar with the whole spiel - "You are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent, etc." This requirement that police inform you of your constitutional right to remain silent if you are in custody comes from a Supreme Court case called Miranda v. Arizona. If police fail to inform you of your rights, anything incriminating you say after it is determined that you were "in custody" will most likely be withheld. When in doubt, stay quiet.
You have the right to refuse a search of your car.
You don't have to allow police to "take a look" inside your car. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by the police. Without consent or a warrant, police officers cannot search your person or your car unless:
1) There are illegal materials in plain view
2) There is reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred
3) The officer has probable cause to arrest the driver
4) The officer believes evidence is about to be destroyed
You have the right to refuse a field sobriety test/breathalyzer.
Honestly, this is usually a very bad idea...but you have the right to refuse this. Most states do have an "implied consent" law that is agreed upon when you get your license. The fine print says you will consent to a breathalyzer test if requested. If you refuse, many states will suspend your license for at least 6 months.
You have the right to ask whether you can go.
In cases where no arrest has occurred, police do not have the right to detain you indefinitely. You can ask the police officer if you are free to go at any time. If the answer is "yes," then you are not "in custody" or "under arrest" and can leave.
Be careful out there, especially during the holidays. Police are on high alert for drunk driving during the holiday season. COVID notwithstanding, please do not drive if you've had a few. If you make a mistake and are suspected of DUI, call our office for a free, no-judgment consultation.