Whether or not you believe you were legally pulled over, there are some
important steps you should take to minimize the consequences of a traffic
stop. Generally, you should try to make the officer feel safe and avoid
making them angry or suspicious during the stop. You also need to know
and understand your rights to help ensure your own protection throughout
This may be obvious and should go without saying, but if you notice a police
vehicle following you, do not break the law. Put simply, if the police
are looking for a reason to pull you over, don’t give them one.
Similarly, if they are following you with their lights on, look to pull
over and stop in a safe place at the first available opportunity. This
will help to ensure the police officer feels safe when approaching your
car; they don’t want to have to worry about oncoming traffic. While
it is important to stop safely, you should look to stop as soon as possible.
By doing so, you are not admitting any guilt and you will have a better
idea of where and why the officer pulled you over. Remember to pull over
using the proper turn signals to avoid provoking the officer and accumulating
more complications or possible probable cause justifications for an officer
to cite in support of the stop.
Once you’ve stopped, turn off your engine and roll down your window.
Place both of your hands on the steering wheel. If it’s dark outside,
you should turn on your interior light as well. Officers are chiefly concerned
with their own safety during a stop. By taking these simple steps, you
communicate respect and show the officer that you do not intend to pull
out a weapon or otherwise cause them harm.
An officer may request to search your vehicle during a traffic stop. There
are multiple ways for them to legally conduct a search, beginning with
your consent. After giving permission to an officer to search your car,
you cannot later claim that the search was illegally conducted, even if
there was no legitimate probable cause to perform the search. Remember
that you have a constitutional right to refuse a search, and your refusal
cannot be used as evidence against you in court. Additionally, the officer
will have to prove in court that he had a legal reason to conduct the
warrantless search if done so without your consent.
There are of course a number of ways for an officer to legally conduct
a search of your vehicle without your consent. One way is if an illegal
object is in “plain view” of the officer. For example, if
the officer notices an open container of alcohol or drug paraphernalia
in the vehicle sitting in plain view, they can arguably use that as a
justification to detain you and search your vehicle. If an officer had
probable cause to stop and arrest you for a crime, that too could legally
justify an officer to conduct a search of your vehicle on the roadside
or later at impound. Another justification is if an officer has probable
cause to believe that a crime had taken place based on evidence within
the car. For example, if you have a collection of items that are not necessarily
illegal to possess—but on balance—suggest that a crime may
have taken place, then an officer may be justified in searching for the
fruit of further illegality. Lastly, an officer may search your vehicle
if the officer believes that a search must be conducted in order to prevent
evidence of a crime from being destroyed. While the last reason is not
a common justification for searches during traffic stops—like most
things—it can still be used if it can be proven in court.
If you’re pulled over by law enforcement, remember to stay calm.
Be respectful to the officer. And make him or her feel safe, even if doing
so makes you feel undignified; it will ultimately help you minimize the
consequences of the stop. It’s always important to know your rights
as a citizen when dealing with law enforcements officials. Finally, if
you are arrested on the roadways and an officer performs what you believe
to have been an illegal search of either you or your vehicle, you should
have an experienced criminal defense attorney help you to analyze the
facts and circumstances surrounding the stop and search. There are various
ways to deal with these sort of legal issues in court, including filing
motions to suppress evidence (what is most commonly referred to as a 4th motion for an illegal search and seizure). Criminal Defense Attorney David
Silldorf has successfully litigated countless suppression motions over
the years in both state and federal courts. Please contact us if you believe
you have been wrongfully arrested or your personal property has been illegally
seized. We are here to help fight for your rights.