Law Office of Paul W. Hamilton

What To Do During A Traffic Stop

Everyone gets nervous during a traffic stop. You fear getting a ticket, your insurance rates increasing, or even getting charged with a crime – whether you are committing one or not. So when you get pulled over by law enforcement, remember these simple tips of what to do during a traffic stop in Arizona.

When You See Police Lights Behind You

When you see those red and blue police lights in your rear view mirror, pull over quickly and cautiously. Make it obvious to the officer that you see them and are complying. Use your turn signal as you pull to the right shoulder. Ensure you pull as far to the right side of the shoulder as possible, for your, other drivers’ and the police officer’s safety.

Be calm and clear about knowing the officer is in control. As soon as you pull over, look around your surroundings. You should be close to where the officer claims you committed your moving violation. So by getting to know the scene, you can look for ways to defend yourself against the officer’s claims.

Immediately After the Stop

No matter what, be polite during the traffic stop. Even if the officer seems negative or aggressive, keep cool and calm. By being polite you have much less to lose than if you behave negatively.

After pulling your car off the road, roll down your window on the side where the officer is approaching. Turn off your vehicle engine and place both hands on the steering wheel. During night hours or after dark, turn on the vehicle’s interior light. Do not reach toward your glove box or for documentation. This alarms most officers because they are trained to observe and question these actions. The officer is within reason to suspect you are stashing or reaching for something.

If you were pulled over by an unmarked vehicle and do not see a badge, you can ask politely to see the officer’s ID and badge. If you think you have been pulled over by someone who is not really an officer, you can ask the officer to request a supervisor to come to the scene. Another option is to ask the officer to allow you to follow them to a police station. But the vast majority of officers pulling over vehicles for traffic stops wear uniforms and badges within clear view.

Do Not Give the Officer Reason to Search Your Vehicle

Police officers do not usually search vehicles during traffic stops, unless given reason to do so. This is easier to do, than you think. You need to be careful in what you say and do, to avoid a vehicle search. Remember, the officer is watching you to see if you act suspiciously.

An officer may search your vehicle if you appear to hide something or throw something out of your vehicle. Even just hunching down in your seat can make it appear you are hiding something. Remember to be calm, move cautiously when told, follow the officer’s instructions and do not reach for anything until the officer says to do so.

The officer can frisk you if he or she believes you may be armed, dangerous or involved in illegal activity. If the officer has probable cause because you appear guilty of criminal activity or behave suspiciously, he or she can conduct a vehicle search. If the officer sees something in your vehicle during the traffic stop, in plain view, that officer can legally inspect it and other objects. These objects can be legally seized. Items in plain view that open you to search include drug paraphernalia, wine bottles, alcoholic beverage containers or pill bottles.

If you or anyone in your vehicle have outstanding warrants or are otherwise placed under arrest, the officer can search your vehicle. If you are arrested, the officer may have your car or truck towed. That opens you up to having your car searched and the contents in it inventoried.

Do Not Get Out of Your Vehicle Unless Told to Do So

Do not ever get out of your car or truck unless you are told by the police officer to do so. Remember, do not lead the officer to think you are trying to take control of the situation. Officers are trained to be highly observant and expect the worst from your movements and behavior. The officer is “on edge,” so if you exit your vehicle without being told to do so, you make the situation much worse. This is a sign of trying to flee the scene or cause harm to the officer.

When asked to exit the vehicle, do so slowly and carefully. Do not make sudden movements and keep your hands where they can be seen. Being outside of your vehicle gives you a good chance to check out the scene, so you remember it for your defense. If the officer thinks you may have a weapon, he or she will pat you down over your clothing. The officer can reach in to your pockets or other hidden areas to remove a concealed object, if you have one.

Be Polite and Respectful in Talking to the Officer

The officer is the leader in all communications. They do most of the talking. Do not interrupt. Do not argue or say anything that can be used against you. Answer questions with “no” or “yes,” as appropriate. The more you talk, the more likely you are to incriminate yourself. You do have the right to remain silent. Letting you incriminate yourself makes the officer’s job much easier, when you admit to other possible violations or that you were being careless or negligent.

Whenever you are not asked a direct question, the best option is to not respond. Do not admit any guilt. Be polite but remember that it is up to the officer to prove your guilt, not up to you to help him or her do that.

Attorneys to Help Fight Your Traffic Stop Charges

If you were ticketed or charge with an offense during a traffic stop, you need quality defense representation. Your criminal defense attorney can help you gain reduced charges, lighter sentencing or even dismissal of your case altogether. Always be aware of your rights and responsibilities, particularly if you have been ticketed or charged with a crime.

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