Getting pulled over can be frightening, especially at night when the blinding lights and the deafening siren seemingly appear out of nowhere. It is easy to panic in such a situation; therefore, you must at least have a general understanding of what happens when you are pulled over and how you should respond.
Why you might get pulled over.
Your initial thought upon getting pulled over will probably be, “What did I do?” Generally, police officers can pull you over only if they have reasonable suspicion that you violated the law. Meaning, officers must reasonably believe that you did something wrong. For example, officers can stop you if they witness you weaving between lanes or if you match a suspect description.
Officers can also pull you over if they reasonably believe that it is necessary to check on your welfare or that you are in need of emergency assistance. Examples of such situations include when officers witness a physical fight within your vehicle or your vehicle has a flat tire.
How to pull over.
Once a police officer signals you to pull over, slow down your vehicle and find a safe place to park. Once parked, turn off your vehicle, stay still, and remain calm. Keep in mind that officers are trained to observe your behavior even before they approach your window. You don’t want to cause any misunderstanding.
Once pulled over.
The police officer will approach and ask for your license, registration, and proof of insurance. If you are the driver, you must comply. If you are a passenger, however, you may refuse.
At this stage, the officer might ask additional questions, so remember that any statement you make can be used against you at trial. Hopefully, the officer will soon return your documents and let you be on your way.
If the officer instead asks to search you or your vehicle, remember that you have the right to refuse. Generally, officers need a warrant supported by probable cause to search you or your vehicle, and they cannot use your refusal of consent as probable cause to conduct a search. Without your consent or probable cause, the officer will have to let you go.
Plain view exception.
While officers generally need a warrant to search you or your vehicle, there are several exceptions that allow them to conduct a warrantless search. One of the common exceptions is the plain view exception, which allows officers to conduct a search if they notice evidence of a crime in plain view. For example, an officer who makes a lawful traffic stop who sees a bag of drugs in the backseat can conduct a warrantless search. Therefore, make sure that you do not have any items in plain view that might either be incriminating or be mistaken as incriminating. Better yet, do not store any such items in your car at all.
If you are arrested, officers can frisk you for weapons, during which they can find and seize any immediately incriminating objects. Officers can also search certain areas of your vehicle, typically the passenger compartment or other areas where additional incriminating evidence may be found. During this process, be sure to pay attention to the officers, including what they say and what they do. This information can help your lawyer better represent you in court.
Getting pulled over is often stressful, so understanding the process is crucial. If you believe that you were unlawfully stopped or that your rights have been violated, contact us at any time at 317-643-1813.