Being pulled over by the police is a stressful experience. Keep in mind that in today's climate, police stops are also stressful for the officer. When your vehicle is stopped by the police your demeanor and what you say during the stop can determine whether you receive a citation or a warning. In more extreme cases, your demeanor can determine whether you are asked to perform a field sobriety test, or whether the police pursue a potential search of your vehicle. These are just a few of the many things that you can do to help ensure that your interaction with the police is a short one.
Acknowledge the officer's lights. Let the officer know that you have seen his lights by tapping your brakes and slowing to signify that you plan on pulling over where it is safe to do so. If you need to drive a distance before you can find a safe place to pull over, turn on your emergency flashers.
Pull over to a safe area. You should think about your safety and the officer's safety also. Look for a wide shoulder or a mostly empty parking lot with light traffic. If it is dark out, look for a well-lit area. If you are genuinely not sure if the vehicle behind you is a police vehicle, drive with your flashers on and at a reasonable speed until you come to a public area. It is also okay in extreme circumstances to call 9-1-1 and advise that you are being pulled over by a suspicious vehicle.
Stay in the car. Simply, do not exit the vehicle unless asked by the officer to do so.
Turn off engine, turn down your stereo, roll down your window, and turn on your dome lights. As soon as you stop your vehicle, turn the car off and turn off the stereo also; roll down your window. If it is dark, turn on your dome lights so the officer can see in the vehicle. This will place the officer more at ease that there are no threatening persons in your vehicle. If you have tinted rear windows, it may be a good idea to put down your rear windows as well as your own window to help the officer see in to the vehicle and allay any safety concerns the officer has approaching your vehicle. Place your hands on the wheel where the officer can see them.
Stay calm. When you are pulled over it is easy to get excited. Breathe deeply and relax. No need to escalate the situation by angry or suspicious behavior. If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about. If you have done something wrong, escalating the situation will only draw attention to your misdeeds.
Be brief and do not admit to wrong doing. John 8:32 reads in part, "...the truth shall set you free." Rest assured that passage is not intended to inspire you to go overboard in fluid conversation when stopped by the police. If you plan to contest your ticket or if larger criminal charges are at stake, keep your answers short and do not admit to wrongdoing. Absolutely everything you say to an officer is admissible in court. Officers will frequently ask questions to get some sort of admission out of you when they first walk up to your window. For instance, they may ask, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" In reply, do not say, "I was speeding." Simply say, "No, sir" or "No officer," or, "I don't know."
If you are only facing a traffic citation sometimes admitting fault helps. If you roll through a stop sign or are going 12 over the speed limit, sometimes there is no benefit to being coy. A candid apology will sometimes get you a warning or a reduced offense at the scene. As in any interaction with another person, courtesy and politeness can go a long way.
Have your documents in good order. When an officer approaches your window you do not want to be searching through papers for your registration and proof of insurance. For instance, if you have had a few drinks, you will be more likely to appear intoxicated and to end up taking a field sobriety test if you cannot find your paperwork and that may lead to a DUI. Get a conspicuous vinyl or brightly colored envelope and be sure to keep your up-to-date registration and proof of insurance in there. When the officer asks for them, let the officer know you will be reaching toward the glove box and move slowly and deliberately. Do the same when you reach in your back pocket for your wallet and definitely give notice if you need to reach into the back seat.
Do not keep a firearm with your paperwork! If you have a firearm in the vehicle, stay away from it. If you have to reach near your firearm, let the officer know in advance that there is a firearm and wait for permission to reach where you need to. Here in Pennsylvania, you do not have to immediately tell the officer if you have a firearm in the vehicle when you are pulled over, but you do have a duty to honestly answer the question of whether you have a firearm in the vehicle if you are asked. If this happens, officers are allowed to request to keep the weapon for the duration of the stop. If you have the firearm on your person, you may want to consider telling the officer also. It is very alarming for an officer to notice the firearm without advance notification.
Keep your hands on the wheel for the duration of the stop. After you have handed the officer your paperwork, return your hands to the steering wheel. You want to keep your hands visible.
DO NOT GIVE CONSENT TO SEARCH. This one is in all caps for a reason. In order to compel a search your vehicle, an officer needs probable cause. To search without probable cause, the officer will need your consent. Officers are skilled at requesting to search your vehicle in a sly manner. For instance, they may say, "You don't mind me taking a look in your car, do you?" Likewise, some officers will tell you that their corporal or other superior officer asks them to perform searches and suggest that you will be doing the officer a favor if you allow him or her to perform a search. Think of Nancy Reagan and, "just say no."
Even if you have not done anything illegal, it is advisable to decline consent to search. The Fourth Amendment gives you the right to privacy and while you may believe that you have nothing to hide, you never know what a search will turn up. Friends and family could have left something in your vehicle. Even an empty beer can left in your back seat during a tailgate party could lead to an open container violation. Best to politely decline the search. To do this, simply say: "I do not consent to a search, Officer." Do not yell, but speak loudly and clearly enough so that your voice will be recorded on the officer's body microphone. Do not hem and haw about this.
Do not argue with the officer. The roadside is not the place to argue a ticket or a criminal charge. You can do that in front of a judge and best with the assistance of counsel. The side of the road is not the place to argue a charge," says Phil. If you want to contest the ticket, you can do so in court and in front of a judge. If you feel the need to argue, remember the rules above. Keep it short, stay calm, keep your hands where the officer can see them.