Three top tips to keep you safe during a traffic stop by a police officer. Nobody is excited to see the lights flash behind them from a police cruiser, but there are a few things you should remember to keep the ensuing stop professional.
Unfortunately, everyone has seen a sharp increase in the news stories covering police officer involved shootings. Therefore, it is very important that you remain calm when you find yourself speaking with a police officer. Regardless if you feel that you were not speeding, that the light was yellow, etc.; be courteous to the officer. You should have your license and insurance card ready to hand to the officer; however, try to refrain from moving digging around the vehicle to find it. If you cannot reach your information without digging through your glovebox, I recommend waiting till the officer asks for the information so you can inform him/her that you will need to open the glovebox to retrieve it. ALWAYS KEEP YOUR HANDS WITHIN THE VIEW OF THE OFFICER, AND NEVER MAKE A QUICK MOVEMENT!
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO CONSENT TO A SEARCH!
My first experience with an officer searching my vehicle went like this:
Officer, "I pulled you over because you did not use your turn signal to merge onto the interstate.
Brian (me), "Okay".
Officer, "Do you mind if I search your car?".
I was not required to let the officer search my car; I was just a kid that didn't know my rights. If that stop occurred now that I know my rights, I would not have consented to the search.
If the officer still chooses to search your vehicle after you said he/she does not have consent, do not try to physically stop the officer - Let your lawyer deal with the legality of the search later.
Talking to the Police Officer.
The police officer is now at your window and you are wondering what to do. Hopefully, you were able to retrieve your license quickly so you can identify yourself to the police officer. Your obligation to talk to the officer ends after you have identified yourself! You would be shocked to find out how many people admit to having drugs in their vehicle within the first few minutes of talking with the police.
Assuming your license is valid, you do not have an outstanding warrant, and the reason the officer stopped you was for a minor traffic violation, the traffic stop should end after the officer identifies you and gives you a ticket/warning. At some point, the officer may ask to search you or your vehicle; you can refuse this request.
Should you comply with a police officer's request that you exit the vehicle while the officer is confirming your identity? Typically, yes. Most police officers do this for safety reasons. Remember, they cannot search you or your vehicle after you have left it unless you consent or they have another legal reason. They can, however, look through the windows to see if you have anything sitting out in "plain view".
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