Police Stops: What to Do If You Are Pulled Over
When You See the Police Car
Pull over in a way that will be most likely to calm down an angry or annoyed traffic officer. Use your turn signal to indicate any lane changes from left to right, and slow down fairly quickly, but not so quickly that the officer will have to brake to avoid hitting you. Pull over as far to the right as possible, so that the officer won’t have to worry about being clipped by vehicles in the right lane when coming up to your window.
Right After You Stop
Roll down your window all the way. Put out a cigarette if you have one and discard any chewing gum (within the car). You might also want to place your hands on the steering wheel, and, if it’s dark, turn on your interior light. These actions will tend to allay any fears the officer might have. After all, police officers have been killed in traffic-stop situations, and the officer’s approach to the vehicle is potentially the most dangerous moment.
Your dignity might be offended a little at this point, but remember that you’re just doing a few simple things to put the officer in an optimal frame of mind.
An officer enforcing a traffic stop isn’t looking just for furtive movements. Officers will look for anything incriminating that’s in “plain view” (like open beer or wine bottles, joints, or roach clips). Discovery of one item in plain view often leads to a thorough search that reveals more incriminating or illegal objects.
Also, if the police officer reasonably believes 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. (Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983).)
You should generally let the officer do the talking, responding where appropriate. For example, when asked to hand over your license, registration, and proof of insurance, you should say something like, “Okay,” or, “Sure,” and fork over the documents.
Some lawyers caution that an officer who pulls you over for a traffic violation has decided whether to give you a ticket before approaching your car. (They also acknowledge that you can convince an officer who was going to give you a warning to give you a ticket through rude behavior.) These lawyers warn that officers will sometimes act as though they might change their minds if you cooperate so that they can get information or an admission out of you.
It can be tough to know exactly what to say to an officer’s queries, but whatever you do, you shouldn’t argue. And you should know that you have a right to remain silent, although you might have to actually say something to invoke that right. (See Invoking Your Right to Remain Silent.)