What Should I Do If Police Stop My Car?

Being Pulled over by the police can evoke a number of emotions – – fear, frustration, anger, etc.  However, there are a number of suggestions that I can recommend in order to make the encounter as smooth as possible, regardless of the reason for the stop.  A word of explanation before continuing.  The police may or may not be correct for stopping the individual involved.  The tips that I offer before apply regardless of the propriety of the reason of the street stop.  That being said, the best thing a person stopped can do is to make sure not to escalate the situation.  Here are some suggestions to promote that objective:

  1. IF ASKED TO PULL OVER MAKE SURE TO SIGNAL A LANE CHANGE OR TURN – – yes, it sounds petty, but, police have been known to issue an additional summons for failure to signal;
  2. KEEP YOUR HANDS VISIBLE ON THE STERING WHEEL AT ALL TIMES – – police do not know whether an individual that they pulled over is armed or not. The police officer’s main concern throughout the encounter is the officer’s safety and the safety of his or her partner.  The easiest way to place the officer at ease is by having your hands visible at all times.  The less a person being stopped by the police does to threaten an officer’s concern for his or her safety the better for all involved;
  3. OPEN YOUR DRIVER’S SIDE WINDOW – – again this goes to the safety issue. Also. Turn off your car radio and/or hands-free phone device.  Similarly, if the stop occurs at night, it is advisable to TURN ON THE INTERIOR LIGHTS so that the officer(s) can see in your car.  Obviously, these steps should be done in a swift manner, not to lead the officer(s) to suspect that a weapon or contraband is being reached for by the driver or any passenger;
  4. DO NOT FLEE OR MOVE ANY PART OF YOUR BODY WITHOUT BEING INSTRUCTED OR GIVEN PERMISSION TO DO SO – – this goes back to the safety concern. This caution includes not reaching into one’s pocket to present identification or the like to the officer without being prompted to do so.  It also includes not reaching into the glove compartment to retrieve requested paperwork.  Nothing should be done without clearly telling the officer where you are reaching and receiving permission to do so first.   One should realize that the police commonly will use any unsolicited body movements or gestures as a pretext to order a driver out of the car, oftentimes blowing the entire encounter out of proportion;
  5. COMPLY WITH ALL COMMANDS BY THE OFFICER/ DO NOT RESIST – – this is not the time to argue with the police officer, regardless of how unjustified the stop may be or how irrational the officer is acting. If asked to get out of your car, do so with your hands clearly visible at all times.  If, for some reason the officer indicates that you are being arrested, do not waive your hands or resist in any way.  Doing so will only make things worse, including further prosecution for resisting arrest.    There are many remedies available to challenge the legality of the stop and the police conduct including suppression of evidence in a criminal or the commencement of a civil law suit against the officer.  The time and place for these remedies are later on in a courtroom or in a lawyer’s office, not during the encounter;
  6. DO NOT ARGUE OR TRY TO REASON WITH THE OFFICER – – understand that no matter how unfair the stop and subsequent police behavior may be, the police are in control of the situation. Arguing or “reasoning” with them will not help.  If anything, it will only escalate an already unfortunate experience.
  7. BE AN ACTIVE OBSERVER – – this is not easy, but is very important. Your observations of what the officer says and the way he acts on the scene are critical to any legal challenge or suit your lawyer may bring forth later on your behalf;
  8. DO NOT MAKE A STATEMENT – – police officers pretty much have their minds made up of what is going to take place once an individual is stopped, so talking to them is not going to change the outcome. There is also a misconception that you can talk your way out of a ticket or out of an arrest.  That is simply not true.  Further, any statement the stopped motorist or passenger may make to the police, regardless of how innocent or innocuous the statement may be, can be reported by the officer and described in a way that will seem like an admission to wrongdoing by the individual.  These inaccurate portrayals are further used by prosecutors in court to strengthen their cases.  The less a person says, the less likely his or her words can be misrepresented;
  9. DO NOT GIVE PERMISSION TO THE OFFICER TO SEARCH YOUR CAR – – police routinely use car stops as a pretext to search the interior of the car and/or trunk for contraband. There are very limited exceptions to the search warrant requirement that both police and prosecutors rely on in order to defeat a motion to suppress evidence by a motorist and/or passenger.  One of the most common exceptions to the search warrant requirement is consent by the motorist or owner to conduct the search.  It is completely legal and advisable to withhold consent to the search.  Again, do so respectfully, not aggressively;

Finally, regardless of whether an arrest takes place or not  or if a moving violation is issued:

  1. CONTACT AN ATTORNEY AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. As stated earlier, your lawyer can help you challenge the legality of the stop and what takes place during the stop.  There are certain time limits to seek these remedies ,so contacting an attorney such as Ezra C. Levy as soon as possible is of the essence.


Hopefully, you found this article helpful.  Keep checking for future posts from Attorney Ezra C. Levy.

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