Being pulled over by the police can be a stressful time. Below are some tips to help you understand the procedures and reduce stress in the process.
What should I do if the police pull my car over?
First, pull over safely to the side of the road as soon as possible after you realize that the police are stopping your vehicle. The law requires that all drivers maintain a valid drivers license, proof of registration and proof of automobile insurance. You should keep these items with you at all times when you are driving. After you pull over you should retrieve the documents and have them in your hand when the officer approaches your car. Ideally, you should keep both hands on the steering wheel where they can be easily seen by the officer. You should hold the documents in a way that make it obvious to the officer that you are holding documents in your hand rather than anything else. By presenting the proper documentation you make it clear to the officer that you are cooperating with the inquiry and maximize the chances that the encounter will proceed smoothly and you will be on your way as quickly as possible.
What if I do not have my documents?
Follow the instructions of the officer. He or she will likely have you write your name, address, date of birth and telephone number on a piece of paper. If you are not the registered owner of the vehicle, the officer may have you provide the identifying information of that person.
What if the officer asks to search my vehicle?
You are permitted to ask why the officer wishes to search your vehicle. Always remain calm and respectful when addressing the officer. The officer should always remain calm and respectful when addressing you as well. You may refuse consent. In fact, the officer must advise you that you may refuse consent or withdraw consent later if for some reason you change your mind. You may also grant consent to search the vehicle.
Under what circumstances are the police allowed to search my vehicle without my consent?
The police may search your vehicle without consent if they have a valid warrant issued by a Judge based on probable cause. Probable cause consists of facts indicating that an individual has committed an offense or that the evidence sought will aid in a particular apprehension or conviction. The police may, however, search your car without your consent under the "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement. The automobile exception authorizes the warrantless on-scene search of a vehicle only when police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of an offense and the circumstances giving rise to probable cause are unforeseeable and spontaneous. The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that this approach is a reasonable accommodation of the competing interests between an individual's right to be free from unreasonable searches and law enforcement's investigatory demands.
What should I do if the police search my vehicle without a warrant and after I have refused to give consent?
Follow the instructions of the police even if you believe that the police are wrong. The police may be wrong. However, you gain nothing by resisting the efforts. You can later challenge the police action in court if you believe your rights have been violated. If you resist you merely give the police more reason to arrest and detain you.
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