Being pulled over is discouraging, but it happens from time to time. Your parents probably ran through the main rules: Keep your hands on the wheel, be polite, and announce it before you reach for your license or make any other move.
From a lawyer’s point of view, here are some additional tips. You should always be concerned about your rights – and about preventing a traffic stop from escalating into an arrest.
Tip #1: If You Have A Weapon in Your Vehicle, Calmly Announce It to the Officer.
If you’re carrying the gun legally, there should be no problem, but you should never conceal the fact that you have a weapon. If you have a licensed firearm in your vehicle, it is essential that you proactively disclose this to the officer pulling you over. Reaching for your wallet without announcing a weapon can be misinterpreted as reaching for the firearm, putting you in danger.
Tip #2: Politely Decline Consent to Any Searches, Even If You’re Sure You Have No Contraband.
People get arrested after consenting to searches all the time, and you do have the right to decline. Simply say, “I do not consent to any searches.” Or, if an officer asks you for your consent, say no.
One reason to refuse your consent to a search is that the police could find something suspicious in your car. You may be 100% sure that the substance on your floor mat is not cocaine, but roadside drug tests are notoriously unreliable. It’s best to avoid being searched so you can’t be falsely accused.
If the officer proceeds with a search without your consent, do not physically resist or obstruct them. Be aware that the officer may search your car even if you don’t consent. Do not try to stop them. If they exceeded their authority to search, any evidence they found would be inadmissible.
Tip #3: Ask If You Are Free to Go. If You’re Not, Know That You’re Under Arrest.
It’s critical to ascertain whether you are being held or allowed to leave a prolonged traffic stop. If you suspect you are not free to leave, you should find out. Once you’ve given the officer your license and registration, kindly inquire, “Am I free to leave?”
Tip #4: Refrain from Offering Explanations – Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent.
When pulled over by police, it’s natural to want to explain yourself and clear up any confusion. However, this is rarely in your best interest. Other than providing your license, registration, and insurance, refrain from voluntarily answering the officer’s questions. Other than announcing that you are reaching for your license and announcing if you have a firearm, respectfully decline to answer questions. Say, “I prefer to remain silent.”
If the officer presses for more information, firmly but politely say, “I wish to remain silent.” This can be repeated as necessary. Even if you think your justifications or anecdotes demonstrate your innocence, refrain from providing them. It’s unlikely that answering questions will lead to your release sooner.
Remember that statements you make to police authorities may be misunderstood, misremembered, or purposefully changed. Your answers may also open the door to more inquiries. By remaining silent, you shield yourself and provide the best possible defense for your attorney.
You will undoubtedly feel pressure to explain in order to clear this all up. Be aware that the officers are actively seeking evidence against you at this point. Your explanation is unlikely to de-escalate things.
Tip #5: Invoke Your Right to an Attorney.
If you are under arrest, it’s time to ask for a lawyer. This invokes your 6th Amendment right to legal counsel. As soon as you ask for a lawyer, the police should stop asking questions. They may periodically try to change your mind. Don’t let them. Say to the officer, “I will not answer any questions without my attorney present. I’m requesting legal counsel. Be specific and firm in your request. Phrases like, “Maybe I should get a lawyer,” might not be enough. Get a lawyer on your side as soon as possible.
Also, refuse to sign any documents or make any statements without your lawyer reviewing them first. Whether you are questioned during the traffic stop, at the police station, or asked to make a written statement, have your attorney communicate on your behalf.
It’s important to know your rights during a traffic stop, but there are many subtle ways to defend yourself in these circumstances. Speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney is the best line of action, especially if you believe your rights have been violated.