We’ve all been there – you’re driving along, comfortable in your abilities to control this machine you call your car. Suddenly, you see the blue and red flashing lights behind you. At first, you wonder who did something wrong. It couldn’t have been you, correct? But then your senses catch up with your nervous system and you realize that you are, in fact, the vehicle that’s being pulled over by the cop behind you.
The only legal and sane things to do at this point are to pull over and take your lumps. You must have done something illegal without realizing it. Your brain is swimming as you try to think of why a police officer would be stopping you. No matter the reason for this traffic stop, there are several things you can do to protect yourself from being mistakenly charged for something you haven’t done.
1. Do…Film Your Traffic Stop
Once you are safely stopped, it is your legal right to have a bystander or fellow passenger film the stop with their camera phone. If you are alone, you may record the interaction yourself. However, anyone, including yourself, that chooses to do so must be sure to interfere with the work of law enforcement officers. Another consideration is to know your state’s law regarding the filming of anyone without their consent.
2. Do Not…Consent to Search
Being pulled over by the police, for any reason, is not enough for them to legally search your vehicle. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable search and seizure. An officer must have probable cause to believe that you are committing a crime and most traffic offenses just don’t qualify. Luckily, a law enforcement officer will usually only ask to search your car if he or she has no real cause to do so and will most likely not perform one if you refuse the request.
3. Do…Decline to Answer Questions
It may be one of the easiest tips to remember, but never forget that all U.S. citizens have the right to remain silent. At no point during a traffic stop are you required to answer questions. Especially if you are suspected of a serious offense such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your DUI attorney will have an easier time defending your case in court if you haven’t incriminated yourself.
4. Do Not…Allow Yourself to Be Held
Remember, being stopped for a traffic violation or arrested for DUI doesn’t give the police the right to hold you for an extended amount of time. Most states have adopted the 72-hour rule and require your release from detainment within that time if no formal charges have been brought against you. If you are arrested and feel that you are being illegally detained, call your attorney. Even if you have been charged, many attorneys will try to see to your release until trial so as to allow your full involvement in defending your case.
5. Do… Request & Record Information
Did you know that you can ask to see your alleged recorded speed on a radar gun or the results of your breathalyzer test when suspected of DUI? Most people are unaware that while you have the right to remain silent, law enforcement officials are not afforded the same privilege. If you get stopped by the police, you may not only see the evidence against you, the officers must also answer any questions you ask about why you’ve been stopped. For example, if an officer says you are suspected of DUI, he must tell you what you did to raise this suspicion.
So, the next time you are pulled over by law enforcement, be polite and courteous, but never lose sight of your rights. Lawyers can do a lot more for your defense if you remember these basic tips. If you are arrested following a traffic stop, be sure to contact your lawyer, especially if it’s for a serious offense like driving under the influence.