There are many ideas about how to handle a traffic stop. Some people say you should act like a subservient toad and do as you are told no matter what, others say you should be a stubborn ass and question everything.
The truth, as I see it, about how to handle being stopped by police falls somewhere down the middle.
First, you must understand that, yes, there are rules about how and why and when police can initiate a traffic enforcement stop. However, you must also accept the fact that the roadside is not the place to hammer out what rules may or may not have been broken. Save that for your lawyer and for court.
Next, consider the fact that the world is seemingly more dangerous than ever before and police are standing right on the front line of that danger; they don’t know you or what you are up to or whether you plan to kill them; they are understandably skeptical and paranoid.
At the same time, while there are more good cops than bad, there are some gigantic a-holes out there and the street is no place to challenge them…again, save it for court.
When you are rolling down the road and you are startled by the red and blues from behind, it is best to do the following:
- Activate your turn signal, so the officer knows you see him and merge right carefully.
- Pull off the roadway as far to the right and as safely as you can; you may need to exit the highway – if so, maintain a safe and appropriate speed.
- Come to a complete stop, put the vehicle in park, and roll down your window.
- Some say to turn off your engine, it’s up to you – but turn down the radio for sure.
- Other people say to only roll your window down enough to hear the officer and so he can hear you. I disagree. In an already contentious situation, I don’t think rolling down the window an inch, because you can, does anything but aggravate the situation. It’s up to you.
- Provide your driver license, registration, and proof of insurance
Those four things will make the process of the traffic stop go as smoothly as possible. However, this is where it can get a bit interesting.
In all circumstances, you have an absolute right to remain silent. That is, you do not have to answer any questions and, quite honestly, I believe this to be among the most significant of our Constitutional rights.
The police can lie to you and they can spin whatever you say out of context to use against you – and they will! So why would you give them any ammunition or evidence that can even possibly be used to hurt you later on?
“Do you know why I stopped you?” is usually the first question. Your answer must be: NO. In reality, you don’t “know” why he stopped you until he tells you.
Remember, he does not care whether you know why he stopped you. He wants you to say “yes, because I was speeding,” or whatever the reason. Now, you have admitted to the infraction and the case – in court – is over for you.
Then the officer may or may not tell you why he stopped you. It does not matter.
He will ask for your license and registration and insurance. You will give it to him. Some people say to hold it against the window and have him pass the citation thorough… who needs the headache? Just give the license, insurance, and registration.
He will appear to be making small talk; he will say something like: “where are you headed?” or “where are you coming from?”
These questions have nothing to do with the reason for the stop; they are irrelevant and you have no obligation to answer them. They can, however, be used to link you to some other situation about which you don’t know anything.
If you wish, you can tell him that it’s none of his concern – although that may be a little brusque. I suggest you blame me and tell him that you heard from a lawyer once never to make any statements, so you are invoking your right to remain silent and not answering any questions without a lawyer present. He will either laugh or be mad…neither will change whether you get a ticket.
The same invocation of your right to remain silent and not answer any questions applies to any other questions he may have for you. Especially if they ask you about drinking.
He may try to tell you that you are not under arrest so your fifth amendment rights don’t apply; he’s either a liar or stupid – either way, he is wrong. Your fifth amendment rights exists regardless of whether you are in custody. The only difference is that, when you are in custody, they are required to tell you about your right to remain silent.
Don’t argue with him. You will not win! These guys are always right even when they are completely wrong. Just ask, they will tell you.