I was driving home the other day when a police officer came up behind me with his lights on. To my relief, he passed me and pulled over the person in front of me. Stopped at the next light and from my rearview mirror, I saw the officer get out of the car and approach the vehicle. Like any experienced criminal defense and DUI attorney, I knew this traffic stop could go any number of ways for that driver.
This incident called to mind countless conversations I’ve had with former clients about how they could have handled their traffic stop better. Of course, these conversations are always retrospective and, as evidenced by the client’s presence in my office, too late to be useful. But here’s what I tell them, in case it might someday be of use to you. Continue reading below for helpful tips and tricks!
#1: Pull Over Immediately!
I mean it—immediately. If you don’t think it’s particularly safe to do so because, for example, you’re on a busy highway, still pull over immediately. If the officer wants you to move, she or he will tell you over the loudspeaker or when arriving at your window. By making an effort to pull over right away, you are acknowledging the officer and demonstrating your intent to comply with the stop. Think about this as an early opportunity to establish a rapport with the officer and demonstrate respect. The police have published suggestions that you turn your signal on, move to the right shoulder, put your car in park, and turn the dome light on if it is night when you pull the car over.
#2: Keep Your Hands Visible & Avoid Sudden Movements
It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how quickly people forget to keep their hands visible and avoid making sudden movements. During a traffic stop, you should only move or reach around the vehicle when told to do so by the officer. If there are passengers in the car, make sure they know to stay still and keep their hands visible, also.
Put yourself in the officer’s shoes. She or he has no idea who you are, what you’re doing, or what sort of things you might have in the car. Law enforcement personnel are trained to be on alert, and given the nature of the officer’s job, it’s likely that she or he has experienced a few not-so-smooth traffic stops. Do everything you can to make sure the officer knows that yours is not going to be one of those.
#3: Tell the Officer if you Have Any Weapons
It’s not unlawful to be carrying a permitted, concealed weapon, but if you have such an item in the car or anything else that might be considered a weapon, communicate this to the officer immediately and tell him or her where it is located. Do this, of course, while keeping your hands on the steering wheel. Understand that if the officer suspects you are carrying a weapon, you could be subject to a body pat-down. It’s better to just be upfront and honest.
#4: Let the Officer Talk
Before you jump into an explanation about how you’re late for your son’s PTA meeting or how your daughter is giving birth this very moment, let the officer have the first word. In fact, saying as little as possible during the traffic stop is your best course of action. Take it from a seasoned DUI attorney—you don’t want to incriminate yourself. If the officer asks why you think you were pulled over, it’s perfectly alright to say that you don’t know. And if you are not given a reason for the stop, it’s also within your rights to ask for one. Just do so calmly and respectfully because …
#5: Be Nice
… nobody likes a jerk!
While the other rules I’ve listed are important, the most important thing you can do at a traffic stop is keep your composure and be polite. Being argumentative and hostile will only increase the probability that you get a similar reaction from the officer. Remember: you don’t want the officer to be rude to you, so don’t be rude to the officer. Keeping your head clear and the interaction as pleasant as possible will not only save you time and energy, it might also impact the severity of your penalty. As other attorneys have advised, it is best not to give an officer an excuse to search your car, and staying polite and respectful is a great way to deescalate the situation. See FindLaw’s list of tips for more ideas, including a great suggestion not to get out of your car until you are asked.
It’s true that no matter how helpful my guidance, following these rules won’t necessarily relieve you of penalty. Depending on the reason for and the outcome of the stop, a conversation with a DUI attorney or reckless driving attorney might be warranted. Nicol Gersch Law Offices, LLC has helped countless Colorado clients through the aftermath of traffic stops gone wrong and DUI charges. Call or email me directly to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation and explore your options: (970) 670-0738 or email@example.com.
Let Justie get justice for you today!
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