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Here’s What to Do When Getting Pulled Over

 
10/24/2019
Justin Weinstein
Read Time: 8 Minutes

Getting pulled over by the police is rarely a pleasant experience, but there are some things you can do to make the experience less stressful. What you do and say can make a big difference during the traffic stop, and your actions and attitude can have a big effect on the outcome. No matter if the stop results in a citation for a simple moving violation or more serious an arrest, what you do during the encounter is critical. Below is an outline of what to do when you get pulled over.

When You Hear the Sirens and See the Flashing Lights

When you see the flashing lights and hear the blaring siren of the police car behind you, pull over immediately and safely come to a complete stop. Even if you know you've done nothing wrong. Pulling over doesn’t mean you are admitting guilt but failing to do so could arouse suspicions. Pulling over lets the officer or officers know that you are alert and paying attention. And by pulling over right away, you can find out why the officer decided to stop you. This information could be useful later, should you need to talk to a lawyer about preparing a defense.

Pullover in a manner that will placate an annoyed or angry police officer. Follow all traffic rules, such as using your signal to show you are changing lanes, and slow down as soon as you can, but not so fast that the officer or other cars have to step on their brakes to avoid a collision. Make sure you pull over as far to the right as possible, so the officer won't be in danger of being hit by cars when coming to your window.

What to Do Once You've Pulled Over Safely

After you've pulled over safely, turn off your engine. Be courteous when interacting with the officer. It helps create goodwill, and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain if you are polite and cooperative.

Roll your window down all the way. If you are smoking, put out your cigarette, and discard any gum. Place your hands on the steering wheel so the officer can see them. If it is dark outside, turn on your interior dome light. These actions will let the officer know that you are harmless and willing to cooperate. Police officers have been killed pulling people over, and they often view approaching the vehicle as one of the most dangerous moments of their job.

Stay in the car until the officer asks you to get out. Don't start looking through your purse or back pocket for your wallet or license, or in your glove compartment for your registration or other paperwork unless and until the officer asks for them. The officer may mistake your movements as you looking for a weapon.

Can the Officer Search Your Car?

In most cases, when a police officer pulls you over for a traffic violation, they are not allowed to search your car. But there are some exceptions to the general rule.

Once you've been pulled over, an officer will be on the lookout for anything they deem to be a "furtive movement." For example, if the officer notices a lowering of one or both shoulders, they may infer that you are reaching for something under the seat.

And they are not looking only for furtive movements. They will look for anything suspicious or incriminating that is in plain view such as wine or beer bottles, joints, or roach clips. Often the discovery of one item in plain sight can lead to a thorough search of your car that may lead to the discovery of more incriminating or illegal items.

In the event that you are arrested, and your car is towed, the police will most likely perform an "inventory search," even if they do not think there is anything illegal in it.

Stay in the Car When Getting Pulled Over

When you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the officer has the right to ask you and any passengers to exit the car. (Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977); Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997).) Of course, you should get out of your car if you are instructed to do so by the officer. However, do not assume that you should get out of your vehicle, only do so if the officer asks you to do so. You should assume the officer is on high alert, ready to interpret any unexpected movements or failure to follow instructions as a threat or an attempt to leave the scene.

If the officer has any reason to think you might be dangerous, they have the right to conduct a fast "pat down" search of your outer clothing. (Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323 (2009)) If the officer feels anything they think could be a weapon, they have the right to reach in and retrieve it. They can also seize any items during a proper frisk for weapons if they feel like they may be contraband.

In addition, if the officer reasonably believes that you are dangerous and might have a weapon hidden within reach, they may search areas within your car where a weapon could be hidden. (Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983).)

What about Cellphones?

If the officer asks to search your cellphone, you may politely decline. In general, officers may not search cellphones without warrants or consent.

Talking to the Officer

Treating officers with hostility has led to many issues for individuals in the past, as has being too talkative. A good general rule is to let the officer do most of the talking and to respond where appropriate. For instance, when the officer asks for your driver's license, proof of insurance, and registration, politely hand them over.

In some instances, once a police officer pulls you over, they've already made up their minds to give you a ticket. Even if you think this is the case, be respectful and polite. Rudeness may make an officer more determined to give you a ticket while being polite might get you off with a warning. Also, an officer may lead you to think they will be more lenient so that they can get more information from you or even an admission of guilt. So, remember to say just the bare minimum. Keep your answers short but polite.

It can be hard to know exactly what to say when talking to an officer who has pulled you over. One thing you shouldn't do is argue. And, you don't have to divulge anything, you have the right to remain silent. Joking, sarcasm, or arguing are all things you should avoid when talking to the officer.

What If You Are Armed?

If you are carrying a gun, let the officer know. Florida is a shall-issue state with concealed weapons permits issued at the state level by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS). Open carry is not legal in Florida. There is no duty to inform the officer you have a firearm in your vehicle unless the officer specifically asks you.

Avoid the phrase "I have a gun," chances are all the officer will hear is "gun." The word is a trigger word for police officers. Pick your words carefully. "I have a license to carry" is a good option. Once you notify the officer that you are a legal gun owner, they will do one of three things:

  • Let you keep it
  • Remove it
  • Ask you to hand it to them

If the officer lets you keep your gun, or returns it to you, be very careful and point it in a safe direction. Avoid the trigger area. Leave the gun in the same condition the officer hands it back to you in. For example, if it is a revolver and it is returned with the cylinder out, leave it that way. Immediately put it in a safe place.

What to Do When Pulled over for DUI

If you get pulled over for drunk driving or DUI, you should follow the basic rules outlined above, such as safely pull over as soon as you can, keep your hands on the wheel, and turn on the dome light if it is dark outside. The officer will probably be looking for open bottles and paraphernalia. They will also be on the lookout for indications of intoxication by assessing your body movements and speech. Stay where you are and wait for the officer to approach you.

Follow their instructions to the letter and get out of your car if the officer asks you to do so. Remain polite, do not engage in small talk, and do not argue. Remember that everything you do is on video.

Do not submit to a standardized field sobriety test (SFST). In Florida, the state cannot suspend your driver's license due to your refusal to take the SFST. However, the officer can arrest you if they have cause to think you are intoxicated such as they smell alcohol, you have bloodshot eyes, and swaying when you walk. In addition, the officer may submit your refusal as evidence, and the jury or judge may become convinced you were hiding something.

The office may ask you to take the breathalyzer test. Per Florida Statutes 316.1932(2)(c), you automatically consent to a breath or blood testing for the purpose of determining the presence of chemical or controlled substances in a suspected DUI when you get your driver's license.

You can refuse to take the test, but there are consequences. If you are charged with a DUI, your refusal can be entered as evidence of "consciousness of guilt." More importantly, you will lose driving privileges for a specified length of time, depending on whether or not you have a record of prior refusals.

Talking to a Lawyer

You are not entitled to talk to a lawyer before deciding to submit to chemical testing. However, you are entitled to a lawyer once the police start questioning you. So, you can refuse to answer any question until you have spoken to a lawyer and your attorney is present. An experienced criminal defense attorney in South Florida can guide you through questioning and help you build your defense case if you are arrested.

If you or a loved one have been pulled over and charged with a traffic violation or DUI, don't wait, contact Weinstein Legal today. Our dedicated team of attorneys is ready to help you fight for your right to expert representation.