Flashing lights, loud Sirens….please let it be somebody else. Here’s a few tips on how to deal with getting pulled over.
Before Getting into the Driver’s Seat
First and foremost, you should never get behind the wheel without:
- Valid Driver’s License
- Proof of Insurance
*Note: make sure that all of these docs are UP TO DATE. It’s an easy ticket to handout with almost no defense for having outdated documentation.
Second, perform a quick inspection of your car. Busted head/tail lights, cracked mirrors or windshields, etc. are easy ways to get pulled over(not to mention hazardous to yourself and other drivers on the road). Additionally, check your vehicle inspection sticker. Not only can you get ticketed for having an outdated inspection sticker, if you’re ever dragged into court following an accident, evidence of the same can be used against you when determining liability.
Out of All the Fish in the Sea, this Jerk Chose Me!
“Everyone else was going the same speed,” “I know I signaled back there,” “I guess he just loves my skin color.” Relax. Breathe. Safely reduce the speed of you car, signal right, check if you’re clear, and pull over to a complete stop in the right lane(or right shoulder if available). The last thing you want to do is panic and get into an accident when you discover you got the winning ticket today.
*Don’t worry!: Pulling over is not an admission of guilt.
Great, Now I have to Wait for this Money-Grabber?
Here’s a few things that you should do while the officer prepares his handy-dandy notebook and checks your license plates:
- Calm down – Even if it’s not for the purpose of being polite, you will be far more coherent if you think before you speak.
- Check to see if it is a marked or unmarked patrol – In some cases, the driver of the unmarked vehicle attempting to pull you over could be someone pretending to be a cop for the purpose of carrying out an illegal activity. If you feel unsure, call 911 and request that a marked patrol car approach the scene.
- Have your Docs(License, Registration, and Insurance Card) ready to present to the officer
- Put your car in ‘Park’. Although some believe it’s better to turn your engine off, there is nothing legally requiring you to do so.
- Roll your window a quarter-way down . Most jurisdictions(States & Counties) may even allow the driver to show the officer the docs through the window, but it will probably frustrate both parties if you’re trying to read and have a conversation through glass. You want to roll your window down enough to be able to hand over documentation and hold a conversation, but not enough to where either party can stretch their entire arm through(i.e., some officer’s like to go fishing for your stuff or even fish you out – Sandra Bland RIP).
- Place your hands on the steering wheel, spit out anything in your mouth(gum, candy, etc.), turn your interior light on if it’s dark outside, and let’s GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!! (JK, chill out and relax).
No reason to say: Hello Mr./Mrs. Officer 🙂
Although you may be inclined to strike up a conversation, there is no legal requirement to say anything to the officer. You have the absolute right to stay silent – You all heard of the Miranda Rights in Law & Order: “You have the right to remain silent..blah.blah.blah “- well it’s actually a valid and effective right that you possess, SO USE IT!
Like any good bargain, have the other side speak first. The officer is required to provide a reason(“Probable Cause”) for why you’re being pulled over. If the officer provides a valid reason like speeding or failure to signal, then the probable cause requirement is met. However, if no reason is provided, you can ask the officer if you can leave. Failure to allow you to leave can be considered “False Imprisonment.”
*Tip: Officers love to ask “do you know what you did wrong?” NEVER answer this question. It can be used as an admission of guilt.
Notably, stay in your car unless the officer directs you to step out for a specific purpose(driving while intoxicated/under the influence, suspect a weapon of some sort etc.). The rationale for having you exit your vehicle varies by jurisdiction and largely supports the officer’s right to do so on in several situations. (See Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977); Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997); see also Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323 (2009) officer was allowed to perform a “pat-down” once you step out of the car).
Don’t “Excuse” the Search
An officer is not allowed to search your vehicle without a warrant under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But there are of course several complicated exceptions to this constitutionally protected right. For example, if the police officer reasonably believes(from the officer’s subjective view, not of the average person) you’re dangerous and might gain control of weapons, the officer may search areas within the passenger compartment in which a weapon could be placed or hidden. (See Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983).) But a simple way to not stupidly surrender your rights is to “decline any and all unlawful searches without a warrant.” Consenting to a search will surrender any defenses you may have had related to how and why that search was conducted.
K.I.S.S. – Keep it Simple Stupid
There’s no reason to get into a long-winded argument with the officer where there is a high probability of your unnecessary disclosure of incriminating evidence. KEEP IT SIMPLE. If the officer says you failed to signal. Deny it. It’s the officer’s burden to prove your guilt. If at the end you still get a ticket, GREAT! You still have several more rights that you can invoke to challenge the ticket, the evidence, and the facts presented by the officer.
I Live to Fight Another Day
It is recommended to seek out a lawyer once you receive a ticket(especially if it’s a heavy fine with points ), but it’s not a requirement for small violations that you can fight on our own. If you are fighting the ticket on your own, here are a few tips:
- Arrive to court on time on the date specified in the ticket. A default judgment may be entered against you for failure to appear and appealing these judgments are almost impossible.
- Check with the Judge to see if the police officer who wrote the ticket is present. The Confrontation Clause found in the Sixth Amendment provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” … To allow the accused to cross-examine witnesses who testify against him. This is an easy way to have your ticket dismissed if the officer fails to show up.
- You have a right to trial. As yet another 6th amendment right, you’re allowed to cross-examine/question the police officer or any witnesses in support of your defense.
- Negotiate. If the judge or state prosecutor(attorney for the police officer) offers you a reduction in fine or points – weigh the pro’s and con’s. Going to trial over a $50 traffic ticket is probably not worth missing a week of work.
- Appeal. If you don’t accept the offer, go to trial, and still lose; you have one final argument left to the respective Appellate Court in your jurisdiction. There are several grounds for appeal, but at this stage it’s probably best to retain an attorney. Unlike the lower level traffic courts, Appellate Courts are far more sophisticated and require more concise and specific grounds for appeal.
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