Being pulled over by a police officer can be nerve-wracking. Some people can't keep their hands from shaking. Some can't help but shed tears as if they were being sent to the principal's office for the first time in middle-school.
Rest assured, it's not the end of the world, and you aren't a bad person for being pulled over. Traffic stops are a general way for the city to make traveling on the roads safer for everyone, bring in extra revenue for the City, and sometimes get lucky and catch someone who has a warrant out for their arrest.
These guidelines should help you understand what NOT to do, and how to generally conduct yourself to keep yourself out of the most trouble when being pulled over by a police officer.
1. Don't Consent to a Search
This is the #1 mistake a client can usually make, and is usually the only thing that could have allowed them to spend a night at home in bed instead of in jail with a new roommate and a threat of a future prison sentence.
There are at least two times when you need to make it known that you don't consent to a search. The first is when you are asked if an officer can search your vehicle or look inside, just say NO. The second is if the officer starts to go in your vehicle and start searching. Calmly tell the officer that you have not and do not consent to any searches of you or your vehicle.
There are a few exceptions that allow an officer to still search a vehicle. You shouldn't attempt to prevent an officer who begins searching, but if you maintain your refusal verbally that you do not consent to a search, you give your lawyer the best opportunity at suppressing any evidence that might be found.
2. Don't Fidget or Place Your Hands Out of View
An officer's first concern is his safety. Have you noticed every officer that conducts a traffic stop will touch the back side of the suspect's vehicle when approaching the driver? This is specifically for fingerprint evidence to prove that an officer did in fact approach a specific vehicle, in the unfortunate case that a police officer ends up missing, attacked, or killed.
When pulled over, I turn the interior lights on, I place my license and insurance on the dashboard, I roll down the window, and I keep both of my hands on the top part of the steering wheel.
The worst thing you can do during the start of a traffic stop is to start reaching for things out of view of the officer, especially at night. You might know you're a good guy who's just picking up the license you dropped below your seat, but the officer must assume you planned to drop that license and reach for a pistol.
3. Don't Ignore a Police Officer (Completely)
The best way to help your case is to be friendly. Give the officer your license and your insurance. If he or she asks, give your name, residence address, and date of birth.
But beyond that, you can politely tell him you rather not answer any questions without a lawyer.
4. Don't Argue With a Police Officer
Depending on the totality of the circumstances and the officer, you might be threatened with them calling out the drug dogs or telling you that if you have nothing to hide you don't need to remain silent or need a lawyer. Don't fall for it. Maintain that you rather not answer any questions without a lawyer.
If the officer wants to get in your car, he may end up violating your rights to do it. If the officer starts to do things that you believe are objectionable or you don't agree with, do not argue with the officer. Your chance at justice is at another time and at another place. During this traffic stop, the officer is the one who gets to be in charge.
5. Don't Resist a Police Officer Who is Arresting You, EVEN IF HE IS WRONG
In some cases, you might end up being arrested. In general, an officer can arrest an individual for any offense that is committed other than for speeding or violating the open container or texting while driving laws (so long as the driver signs a citation/promise to appear).
Resisting an arrest can turn a $500 maximum fine into spending up to a year in jail. Even if the arrest was unlawful. So don't get yourself in more trouble once the officer starts to give you directions or starts to place the cuffs on you. Just keep in mind that you're going to be extremely inconvenienced for a short time. But I promise it is better than the alternative (and cheaper too).
Dealing with a traffic stop can be a balancing act depending on the officer that stops you and the surrounding circumstances of the stop. Be courteous. Be polite. Don't argue, and don't consent to any searches.
If you've been arrested for a crime and wish to have a Texas licensed attorney look over your case, contact our firm to set up a free consultation to see whether your rights may have been violated.