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So You've Been Pulled Over . . .

Posted by Ian M. L'Heureux | Jul 09, 2020 | 0 Comments

No matter who you are, what you do for a living, or where you are from chances are that at some point in your life you have been pulled over by a police officer. It's an almost unavoidable part of life. Whether it's because you moved too fast, too slow, you changed lanes awkwardly, you weren't wearing your seat belt, you didn't stop your car behind the white line, etcetera, etcetera; there are almost too many reasons (or excuses) to count why a police officer might pull you over. 

Despite that being pulled over is one of those universal experiences that everyone seems to have a story about, surprisingly few people know, understand, or exercise their rights fully once they have been stopped. Maybe if you're reading this, it's already too late to help, but let's say it should ever happen again. You're driving along, you see those blue and red flashing lights grab your attention in your rear-view mirror and your heart just sinks. You're being pulled over. So what now? What are your rights, and what should you do?

1) Be Safe

Let's get the obvious out of the way now: pull the car over as soon as you are safely able and in a safe location. Safe location. Safe location does not mean the on-ramp of exit 32 on I-95. If you have to drive a few dozen to a hundred yards to be safe, then do it. Just stick your blinker on to let the officer know you are compliant and pull off once you are somewhere safe. Once you have done that, get your license and registration and insurance out before the officer gets to your car window. Again, for your and the officer's safety.

2) Remain Silent

Now that's over with, just breath, smile, keep calm, and above all else, remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions the officer is asking you no matter how simple they may seem. They most common opener we all here is "where are you coming from today?" followed by "where are you going?" Guess what, he isn't entitled to an answer and you are not obligated to reply. That is your absolute right at all times. Not to mention, it really isn't any of his business. Could you imagine some random passerby waltzing up to you on the sidewalk and demanding to know where you came from and where you are headed? Well even though that officer has a badge, a gun, and a uniform, he has no more authority than that random pedestrian to pry into your comings and goings. If he tells your otherwise, he is either a) lying to you; or b) extremely misinformed. Oh, and its worth specifying that, since you have the absolute right to remain silent, you don't have to answer the old classic "do you know why I pulled you over?" or "do you know how fast you were going?" either. You just don't 

3) Be Respectful

Now, that's not to say I'm advocating being a jerk, telling him to pound sand, or saying something obnoxiously cliche like "I'm an American, I know my rights!" Just stay calm and polite, inform the gentlemen or lady that you prefer not to discuss your day. Whether it's a police encounter or not, honey catches more flies than vinegar, and nobody likes to be yelled at or argued with for the mere sake of it. Besides, you can pretty much kiss your warning for speeding goodbye if you're a jerk.

4) Protect Your Privacy

Next, and just as important, never under any circumstances are you obligated to consent to a search. Often, officers will ask to perform a consent search of you or your vehicle just to see if anything shakes out. And don't you know, you would be shocked I tell you shocked at how often people just say "sure go ahead." You'd be even more shocked out how often people give their consent when they know they have something illegal in their car. People just feel like they don't have a choice but to say yes when a police officer asks them to search. They feel intimidated or they think that saying no will make them look guilty of something and cause the stop to go on for longer.

Well, the truth is no! No, you do not have to say yes. You never have to say yes. If the officer has probable cause that something illegal is happening, then let him do what he's gonna do. But if he's asking for your permission, more likely than not he does not have probable cause and he knows it. That's the smart money at least. Not only that, but if an officer doesn't at least have what is called "reasonable articulable suspicion" that some other illegal activity is taking place (other than a traffic violation) then the officer cannot extend the length of the stop past that of a normal traffic interaction just to investigate a mere hunch. That means that if his only basis for thinking that you are suspicious is that you said "no you can't  go randomly rummaging through my personal items" then he definitely can't just keep you there because you asserted your fundamental civil liberties. 

5) Passengers

 What about passengers, you ask? Why, they also have the right to remain silent and have the right to refuse consent searches. In fact, since the passengers in a vehicle aren't the ones who committed a traffic infraction, they can even leave the interaction entirely. Say you are the front-seat passenger in a car and the driver gets pulled over for blowing through a stop sign. If the mood should strike you, you can ask the officer whether you are suspected as well of committing a crime or civil infraction. If the answer is no, then feel free to pop out of there and walk away. It is worth mentioning though that if the officer feels unsafe letting you leave, he can keep you right where you are, and if he walks up and there is a crack pipe sitting in the center console, then forget about it you aren't going anywhere. 

6) So You've Been Arrested . . .

Whether you followed these rules or not, maybe you still get arrested. Maybe it's even a bogus arrest (it happens) or a misunderstanding. Guess what, Rule #1 still doesn't change. Remain silent. In fact, if you are being arrested there is nothing better you can do for yourself than 1) refuse to ask questions without an attorney present; 2) invoke your right to remain silent; 3) refuse to consent to searches of your person or vehicle (it'll happen anyway, but don't worry about that now) and 4) cooperate. 

That means don't argue, don't pull away, don't run. Do nothing. Remain silent and compliant. If the arrest really is bogus, or your rights have in some way been violated, this is not the time to make your case or fight the power. The arena for that is the courtroom. Though it may test your patience more than anything ever has, all you can do without making it worse is wait until you get a lawyer.  That's just the way it is. Do not say a word at this point. Even if they are not questioning you, everything you say is being recorded and can be used against you. 

To put it another way, even if nobody has read your Miranda rights, every single thing that you say voluntarily (not in response to custodial interrogation) can and will be used against you. Police are not obligated to "read your rights" until you are both in "custody" (it can mean different things at different times) and being subjected to "interrogation" (also not always as simple as it sounds, so just be quiet).

7)Lawyer, Lawyer, Lawyer

Everybody hates a lawyer until they need one. Well heads up, if you have been arrested then you need one. Whether appointed or retained, you shouldn't do anything or talk to anyone without first consulting with a lawyer. The police have officially made up their mind at this point and probably aren't all that interested in hearing you out. You have the right to have counsel present when being questioned, so for crying out loud insist on having counsel present. 

If nothing else, remember the cardinal rule: keep calm and remain silent. 

About the Author

Ian M. L'Heureux

Ian L'Heureux is originally from Sanford, Maine and graduated from Norwich University, The Military College of Vermont, in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Afterwards, he worked for a year as a Juvenile Program Worker at Long Creek Youth Development Center before entering the Un...


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