Imagine you are driving home by yourself from a friend’s house. It is late in the evening, the sun has set. You are on a back road, minding your business, just looking forward to getting home. Next thing you know, there is a car behind you and suddenly red and blue lights begin to flash. You see the lights in all the mirrors on your car and all around the vehicle. You know it is the police, and the first feeling that sets in is dread. A sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Fear strikes you. Your mind begins to race, “what did I do wrong?,” “why am I being pulled over,?” “what do I do next?” Fear and confusion are the initial feelings, followed by anxiety and nervousness. These are all natural feelings. Nobody wants to get pulled over by the police. These feelings can be terrifying. But what you do next is extremely important. How you react in this situation can affect the police officers’ reaction, what types of charges you may face and much more. Below are a few simple steps that will help you move through the experience with confidence and safety, for both yourself and the police officer
Slow down and pull over to the right in a safe spot.
Many people panic when they see the police behind them. Their first reaction is to pull over immediately. That is fine, as long as you have room and space to do it. If you do not have any room or space, or if you are on the highway, it is okay to slow down and drive a little bit before you pull over. Put on your hazard lights and this will let the police officer know that you have acknowledged him and are looking for somewhere to pull over. If you are on the highway, there may not be a good spot to pull over, but get off the road as much as you can and try to pick a spot where the officer will have room to walk up to your car. You should be taking the officer’s safety into account. This is all to your and her benefit.
Turn the car off and place both hands on the steering wheel.
Once you have found a safe space to park, turn the car off and put both hands on the steering wheel. This is a move that is extremely important. If officers see you fumbling around or reaching for things when they walk up to the car, they have no way of knowing what you are doing. Many police officers are killed in traffic stops. The officers have to be protective, alert and aware. They don’t know you from a hole in the wall. Putting your hands on the steering wheel is a clear signal to the officer that you are not up to any funny business and that you respect him. If it is dark out, go ahead and turn the cabin light on. Also roll your window down if the weather permits.
When asked, provide your driver’s license, registration and insurance information.
Be calm, cool and polite to the officer. If he has approached your window and you have both hands on the steering wheel, the officer will likely relax a bit more and you have already made the situation better for everyone. When he asks for your license, registration and insurance, provide it to him. He has the right to ask for it. Let him know if it is in the glove box and that you will be reaching into the glove box. If you have a weapon in the car, let the officer know. The last thing anybody wants is for you to open the glove box and have a revolver drop out of it without pre-warning the officer. Once you have provided the documentation to the officer, place your hands back on the steering wheel. This should be your default position for your hands throughout the transaction. It is okay to ask the officer why they pulled you over.
Answer the officer’s questions, or don’t answer them, but be polite!
It is sometimes best to answer the officer’s questions truthfully. However, if you feel that you may be incriminating yourself, or admitting to a crime or violation, you do not have to answer the officer’s questions. A police officer can generally arrest and cite you whether or not you talk to them as long as they have probable cause. If you do choose not to answer questions, BE POLITE! Not answering questions does not mean that you should stop speaking to them. Politely decline to answer the questions and explain that you do not feel comfortable answering questions. Tell the officer that you do not want to self-incriminate. Declining to answer questions may not always work in your favor. Sometimes being cooperative is best. Every situation is different. If you are being pulled over for suspicion of a DUI, here is something you should read: https://dui.drivinglaws.org/resources/dui-refusal-blood-breath-urine-test/pennsylvania.htm.
If at anytime you feel that your rights are being violated, do not overreact, scream or do anything dumb. Do what the police officer says, and you can file a complaint or call an attorney later. Obey first, complain later. Police officers have a very dangerous job. The vast majority of them only want to uphold the law and do their job well. If you overreact, you could end up putting yourself and the officer in danger. Escalation of the situation generally will not do anyone any good. Be calm, cool and polite.
If you end up getting a ticket or another legal violation call my law firm for a free consultation. Follow some of these guidelines above and you will be well on your way to having a safe transaction with the police officer. Just knowing and following these guidelines will do a lot to calm your nerves, and the nerves of the officer.
Miranda Rights: You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you at the government’s expense.
This is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. It is a general outline of guidelines to follow if and when you are pulled over.
By: Joseph D. Pometto, Esq.