Routine Traffic Stops
As happens to most of us at some point, you’re driving down the street and you see the blue lights in the rear view mirror. Great, you’re being stopped by the police, now what?
Most of the time the police are going to be stopping you for a minor offense. It could be speeding, running a light or stop sign or some other infraction. When you are stopped do not exit your car unless you are specifically asked to by the officer. For safety reasons the police like you to remain in your car. Don’t fumble around with your license or reach into your glove box to get your registration until the officer comes to the car and asks you for it. When officers see you getting things out of the glove box or reaching into your back pocket for a wallet they don’t know what you are reaching for and it makes them very nervous. The officer may take a few minutes to actually approach the car. What he is doing before he comes to the car is running your license number through the computer to see if the car is stolen or you are wanted. Be patient, this usually doesn’t take long.
Shortly after the traffic stop the officer will come to your car door. When he or she does, have your hands on the wheel or at least in plain sight. The first thing the officer will probably ask you for is your license and registration. This is the time to go ahead and retrieve these items. The officer will probably then glance at the inside of your car or at night shine his or her flashlight into the car. This is standard procedure to see if you have anything that is obviously illegal in plain sight. The next thing the officer will do is inform you why he stopped you. Not all officers do this but most will. They may state that they stopped you for speeding or some other infraction. Or, they may ask you if you know why you were stopped. In either case, don’t offer information. If they ask you why you were stopped just say you don’t know. The reason for this is that if you say you were speeding or doing something else wrong they will use that information against you in court to help convict you. A typical situation is, (Officer) – “Do you know why I stopped you? (You) – I think I was speeding. (Officer) – Do you know what the speed limit is here? ( You) – No, I’m not sure. (Officer) – How fast do you think you were going? (You) – I don’t know.” By the time this gets to court the officer will testify that you admitted to him that you did not know how fast you were going and that you did not know the speed limit where he stopped you. This gives the judge very little choice but to believe that the officer is correct in his observations and find you guilty. The better course of action is to politely tell the officer that you don’t wish to answer any questions.
There are two things you should always avoid. First when the officer tells you why he stopped you don’t argue with him. You are not likely to change his mind by telling him he is wrong and in all likelihood it will only serve to make him mad. In his mind you are simply calling him a liar. Second, don’t try to talk your way out of a summons or arrest. The officer is going to do what he wants to do and you are not going to have any impact on him by trying to sweet talk him or bargain with him. Generally the only thing you can accomplish by doing this is dig a deeper hole for yourself. You will probably say something that can be used against you in the conversation such as indicated in the previous paragraph. Furthermore, the officer may indicate to the judge that you were not cooperative during the stop which may have an impact on how the judge perceives your case and how he will sentence you if he or she finds you guilty. Another reason not to make the officer mad is that he or she has great influence on both prosecutors and judges in determining whether your charge is dismissed or reduced at court. The more you irritate a police officer the less likely that you or your attorney can strike a bargain with them for a lower charge or dismissal of your case.
After the officer has issued a summons he will return to your car and ask you to sign the summons. The signature is a personal pledge by you that you will appear in court. It is not an admission of guilt. If you refuse to sign the summons indicating that you will appear for court the officer will in all likelihood arrest you and take you before a magistrate to post a bond. There is no reason that you should not sign the summons.
After the officer has completed the stop you will be free to leave the area and continue on your way. It would be wise to consult a lawyer about your situation to see what your best option might be. Many times there can be consequences to a conviction that may not be immediately apparent. Most attorneys will consult with you over the phone or schedule an appointment to discuss the matter. At the law office of Michael S Davis, we handle these matters on a daily basis and would be happy to discuss your situation at no cost and help you determine your best course of action.