Normal, law-abiding citizens panic about imaginary crimes they may have committed when stopped by the police. In fact, most traffic pullovers are for minor violations such as speeding or a broken indicator light. A failure to behave correctly, however, can quickly escalate a situation so that you end up being charged with a far more serious offence. Here are some tips to keep your cool when the police pull you over.
Avoid the Blues
When pulled over by the police, it is important that you are cooperative. If you are violating the law in some way, these steps will reduce the likelihood of you being searched or arrested.
- Safety: Pull over as quickly as possible in a spot that is safe for both the police officer and yourself.
- Reassurance: Turn on your interior light as this will reassure the officer about his or her safety and show that you have nothing to hide. Place your hands on the steering wheel to further reassure the officer.
- Self-preservation: Wind your window down one-quarter when the officer indicates to do so. This will allow you to easily pass documents, but the officer will not be able to put his or her head inside your car for closer inspection.
- Minimal conversation: There is no need to engage in small talk. Answer the officer's questions as briefly, but politely, as possible. An example could be "Did you know you had a broken indicator light, Sir?" "No, I didn't. I'm sorry." If you enter into long explanations, you may further implicate yourself.
- Confidence: Provide your documents to the officer without hesitation.
By remaining calm and pleasant, you may be lucky enough to escape with a warning. You can take a deep breath and plan not to break the law in the future.
Exercise Your Rights
Once panic sets in, it is easy to forget your rights in a traffic pullover situation. Remain clear-headed and remember that officers are obliged to follow set procedures.
- You do not have to answer questions beyond your name and address. Politely, but firmly, tell the officers that you do not want to talk if you feel that is in your best interests. Insist that you will only answer questions once you have legal advice.
- You may request to see an officer's ID or ask his/her name.
- Officers must give you a reason if they ask probing questions. These may be questions about where you've lived in the past, where you work or how long ago you bought your car.
- In most cases, officers can only search you or your vehicle if you give consent or they have a warrant. State clearly that you do not agree. Officers may still decide to conduct a search, however, your refusal may be important if a court case ensues.
- Without good reason, officers can usually only perform a brief frisk search in public.
- You do not have to give officers permission to search your phone or computer. They will need a warrant and a court order to make you reveal passwords.
- Officers cannot delay you without reason. If you have been given a ticket and the officer continues to engage you in conversation, you may ask if it is okay to drive away.
- If you are arrested, ask officers for the reason. This may be important information later. You do not have to go to a police station unless you are formally arrested or detained.
Fulfill Your Obligations
There are responsibilities which you must meet if your car is stopped by the police. If you comply and fulfill these responsibilities, you are more likely to evade trouble.
- Be calm and unfailingly polite throughout proceedings.
- Provide your name and address when asked. If under 17, you must also provide your age.
- Keep up-to-date documents with you are all times. Show the officer your driver's license and registration details when requested.
- Never provide false documents or information. This will rapidly lead to serious charges.
- If asked to take a breathalyser or drug saliva test, you should oblige. Failure to do so will most likely result in a visit to the police station for further tests and questioning.
- Officers can confiscate your phone and computer until they obtain a warrant to search them. Do not argue or try to prevent them from taking these items.
Do not let a simple traffic pullover result in serious charges that could affect your future. Behave with dignity, meet your obligations and gently demand your legal rights, if necessary. If you do see red and a traffic pullover goes terribly wrong, immediately seek a criminal law specialist.