I get asked all the time what a person should do if they are pulled over by law enforcement. It is difficult to distill this down to a simple list because every circumstance is different with its own unique set of facts. Consequently, the information presented here is more akin to rules of thumb. Nevertheless, the following information is what should be done in the majority of instances when someone is pulled over by the law.
- Pullover as soon as you safely can (make sure to signal).
- Be courteous to the law enforcement official. There is no reason to unnecessarily provoke them.
- Provide your license, registration & insurance information promptly – you are required to do this.
- Keep your hands in plain sight. The officer has no idea who you are and does not know if you are a threat or not. Be as non-threatening as possible.
- Advise the officer if you are carrying a firearm and present your self-defense act license if you have one – you are required to do this by law.
- Just answer the questions that are asked of you. No need to put forth more information than necessary. In fact, you have a Constitutional right to not answer any questions, but it may not be the best thing to do practically-speaking, as discussed below.
- Record the encounter with your phone. Just as people lie, cops lie too. It’s always best to have a recording to back up your side of the story.
- Have a lawyer on retainer. If you do end up getting arrested, it is best to already have a lawyer you know and trust on retainer. This way you can seek their advice as closely as possible to the incident as it occurred, while the facts are still fresh in your mind.
- Admit to anything. I cannot tell you how many times clients have told me “he said if I admitted to it he would just give me a warning.” As stated above, cops are permitted and often encouraged to lie.
- Consent to a search of yourself, your vehicle, or anything in your vehicle. Again, I have had more clients make this mistake than I can count. DO NOT CONSENT TO A SEARCH EVER. You never know what a cop will find. For example, unbeknownst to you, someone else in your car could drop one of their prescription medications in your car. If you consent to a search of your car and the pill is found, you could be arrested and charged with possession.
- Believe the policeman is your friend. While some cops are nice people, there is no reason to believe they are your friend or have your best interests at heart. Oftentimes they do not.
- Make any sudden, jerky movements. No need to give justification to be shot.
- Get out of your car. See above.
- Elaborate more than necessary in answering questions. If you are going to talk to the cop, keep it simple and just answer the question: “yes,” “no,” “I don’t know.”
- Leave your music on at full blast – it is never a good idea to be bumping “Fuc* the Police” by NWA when the officer walks up to your car. I have actually had a couple of clients do this.
A lot of these “rules” seem to be common sense, but it never ceases to amaze me what some people will do when they’re nervous. And everyone gets somewhat nervous when pulled over, even when they are doing absolutely nothing wrong. While questioning a police officer at a recent trial, he even admitted to still getting nervous
when a cruiser pulls behind him!
Also, there are some “rules” on these lists that are prudent, but not necessarily something you are legally required to adhere to. For example, you have a Constitutional right to remain silent, but exercising that right may end up causing you more problems than it’s worth in a real-life scenario.
While sad that many cops do not understand basic Constitutional rights, it is an all too common occurrence. By exercising your right to remain silent you may end up agitating the officer needlessly. Thus, in a real-life scenario it may be best just to answer the officer respectfully, but only answer the questions asked and DO NOT elaborate needlessly. Often law enforcement is just “fishing” to try to find probable cause to search or arrest you.
To end with, funny enough (no pun intended), Chris Rock is pretty spot on in his take on this subject: