Take It From a Lawyer – What to Do When You’re Being Pulled Over

You’re out for the evening, hoping to have a great time when… Oh no! You see the flashing lights of a police car behind you, beckoning you to pull over to the side of the road. Your heart sinks into the pit of your stomach as panic begins to set in. But have no fear! If you’re well prepared and keep your wits about you, you’ll come out of this unscathed. But what SHOULD you do? Just follow these simple suggestions, and everything will be fine.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS (FOR ALL TRAFFIC STOPS):

1. First and foremost, REMAIN CALM. Take a deep breath and clear your head. Find a safe place to stop and pull your car off to the side of the road. Put the car in “Park” and retrieve your Driver’s License, Vehicle Registration, and Proof of Insurance. Have them ready when the officer comes to your window. He/she may not ask for all of them, but it’s best to have them handy so there won’t be any fumbling for them while the officer is standing at your window. You’ll be plenty nervous, and you don’t want nervous clumsiness to be mistaken for a sign of drunkenness/impairment.

2. ALWAYS be polite and respectful with the officer(s). While we’ve all the heard the stories about dirty cops pulling people over just to harass them or to meet some sort of “arrest quota,” most law enforcement officers are simply trying to do their jobs, and have pulled you over because they have a genuine suspicion that something is amiss. Besides, nobody has EVER helped his/her Sober living near you cause by angering the officer that pulled him/her over. It’s a great way to make things MUCH worse MUCH faster. Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen officers “go to bat” in Court for people they’ve pulled over, just because the person was courteous and respectful with them. And in this particular situation, you don’t need to go making an enemy of the person who has the power to decide whether you go home or to jail for the night.

3. While you’re being courteous and polite, DON’T expect the police officer to do you any favors. THE OFFICER IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. He/she is gathering evidence to use AGAINST you. Don’t give it to him/her. Well, how do I do THAT, you might be asking? Keep reading.

4. Hand the officer whatever documentation he/she requests, and get out of the car when he/she asks you to do so, but don’t do ANYTHING else. Under the law, you are required to provide identification when the officer asks for it, and you are required to get out of your vehicle when asked to do so. However, you are not required by law to do ANYTHING more unless you are under arrest.

5. Do not say anything that could be used as evidence against you. Again, the officer is not your friend. You are NOT going to “talk your way out of it.” The more you say, the worse it is for you. Some people seem to think that the best way to make the situation better is to just “spill their guts.” Not true. You say nothing. You admit to nothing. If the officer presses you to answer his/her questions, simply tell him/her that you do not feel comfortable answering any questions until you’ve spoken to an attorney. At that point, the officer MUST end all questioning. However, if he/she doesn’t, continue to repeat the above phrase verbatim until the officer finally realizes that there isn’t going to be any information forthcoming. Even questions that seem to be innocuous, or just “harmless conversation” can come back to haunt you later if you give the wrong answers. Don’t try to assess which questions are OK to answer and which ones aren’t (especially when your mental faculties are already compromised by the stress of having a police officer standing in front of you). You have the right to remain silent. Use it.

6. Do not comply with any of the officer’s “requests.” If he/she wants you to give your consent to have your vehicle searched, refuse to give it. If he/she wants you to submit to Field Sobriety Testing, refuse to take the tests. If he/she asks you to do ANY kind of testing whatsoever, refuse to submit to the tests. (More on this particular subject matter later.) The only time you ever are required by law to do anything is when you’re under arrest. And you are not considered “under arrest” until you’re cuffed in the back of the cruiser. These are your rights as provided in the Constitution. They exist for your own protection. Use them.

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