What To Do When Pulled Over by Police

No one enjoys seeing a police car’s flashing lights behind them while driving, but it’s certainly true that when it comes to outcomes in a traffic stop, there’s a lot you can do to help the situation. It’s possible that you could even drive away with a warning instead of a ticket. Want to know how? Then read on.

Many people don’t realize that traffic stops are one of the most dangerous parts of a police officer’s job. Violence from a stopped driver isn’t uncommon, and each year, a number of officers are shot during so-called “routine” traffic stops. If you keep this in mind when you’ve been pulled over, it can help you conduct yourself in a way that doesn’t exacerbate a police officer’s concerns. 

The first thing to do when you see the police lights behind you is to begin the process of moving your vehicle to the right-side shoulder of the road, onto a well-lit sidestreet, or pulling into a parking lot. The last two are preferable, as there’s less risk of other vehicles injuring the officer. If you need to drive some distance before you can safely pull over, turn on your emergency flashers and, if needed, reduce your speed to let the officer know you’re complying. 

Once you’ve stopped the car, roll your window down all the way, turn off your engine, and if it’s dark out, turn on your car’s interior light. The more visibility that the officer has into your vehicle, the better. Once you’re situated, take a few deep breaths, put your hands on the steering wheel, and wait calmly for the officer to approach. Remain in the car unless the officer tells you otherwise. Keep in mind that the officer is watching for what are known as “furtive movements” that look like you may be attempting to hide or retrieve something. If your registration or insurance card is in the glove box, this isn’t the time to lean over and get it.

When the police officer arrives at your car window, things can get a little tricky. Generally speaking, you’ll want the officer to say more than you do, and you should respond with short answers whenever possible. You will likely be asked whether you know why you were pulled over, which is a police officer’s way of having you acknowledge your guilt. In the era of body cameras, you should expect that the interaction is being recorded. This means that if you think you may want to fight any ticket you receive, you shouldn’t affirmatively respond with, “Yes, because I blew through that stop sign back there!” Instead, you should say you don’t know. 

If fighting the ticket isn’t on your agenda, you have another option. You can acknowledge what you did wrong, apologize, and promise to do better in the future. Most lawyers will likely tell you that if you deny knowing why you were stopped, your odds of being ticketed go up, while if you say you’re sorry, your odds of being given a warning increase. Obviously, there are no guaranteed outcomes, but everyone appreciates courtesy and honesty, and it costs you nothing to be polite to a police officer. 

If you are carrying a gun in the vehicle or on your person, tell the officer. You probably know whether you live in a “must inform” state or not, but it’s a good policy to never surprise a police officer with a gun. If you do need to get into the glove compartment, center console, or even your purse to produce a document the officer has requested, explain that, and move calmly and deliberately when you retrieve them.

In most cases, at this point, you’ll wait to receive a ticket or warning from the officer. But what should you do if the officer has decided that something is amiss and orders you out of the vehicle or asks to search your car? First of all, follow an officer’s command to get out of the car. If the officer believes you may be dangerous, you are subject to a pat-down search. Cooperate with the officer and comply with instructions. 

When it comes to searching your vehicle, the situation is different. The officer will likely ask for your permission to search, but the question will likely be phrased as casually as possible. The officer might say, “Do you mind if I take a look inside your vehicle?” You have a Fourth Amendment right to decline the search, and it’s almost always a good idea to use that right. 

Finally, if the officer does issue you a citation, you’ll also be asked to sign it. Your signature is not an admission of guilt. It’s a record that the officer can use to prove that you are aware of the citation and that you will either pay the fine associated with the citation or go to court to either accept or challenge it. 

A minor traffic violation may not call for an attorney’s advice, but traffic stops are an extremely common way for people to end up facing more serious charges, from DUI to drugs, such as marijuana or even weapons charges. If this has happened to you, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area right away.

Matthew Reisig is criminal defense attorney in New Jersey with 25 years of successful verdicts, including more than 1,400 “Not-Guilty” verdicts for DWI arrests.

Reisig Criminal Defense & DWI Law
125 Half Mile Rd.
Ste 200
Red Bank, NJ 07701
(732) 625-9661

Comments are closed.

Log in