What You Should Do if Pulled Over By Police
In any situation involving police, even if you believe you have done nothing wrong or have nothing to hide, you should have the knowledge to protect yourself.
If you’re pulled over while driving your vehicle, here’s what you should do:
If you see sirens flashing in your rearview mirror and you think they’re meant for you, pull over as soon as possible. You’re then able to pinpoint exactly where it was on the road that you might’ve violated a law. Pull over as far to the right as possible so that when the officer comes up to your widow, he or she won't be in danger of getting hit by passing vehicles.
When the officer is approaching your vehicle, roll your window down all the way and place your hands on the steering wheel. If it’s dark outside, it might also help the officer to see you clearly and avoid any suspicions if you turn on the interior light. Don’t rummage around your belongings for your license or dig into your back pocket for your wallet until the officer asks you to present it. It’s a good idea to show you don’t mean the officer any harm.
Let the officer speak first. He or she will ask to see your license and vehicle registration. Don’t make the mistake of asking why the officer stopped you before you hand over these materials.
If the car that pulled you over is unmarked, you have every right to ask for the officer’s official identification and badge number. If you are still wary of their legitimacy, you can ask the officer to call a supervisor to the scene or you can request that you be allowed to follow the officer to a police station.
The officer can frisk you if he or she has a reasonable suspicion you are armed and dangerous, and can also search your car and any objects inside if he or she has probable cause that you or your passengers are involved in criminal activity. A minor traffic violation does not constitute probable cause. The officer must have evidence to support his or her belief of criminal activity. Common examples of this are smelling or seeing evidence in plain view.
To learn more about probable cause and reasonable suspicion, a great resource is Know My Rights (KMR). KMR is an educational nonprofit that aims to educate people about their basic rights and responsibilities. Click here for an article on probable cause and reasonable suspicion.
While you cannot tell an officer that you won’t let them search your vehicle or your person, constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment allow for you to state you do not consent to the search. So, simply enough, say: “I do not consent to this search.” It’s important to know that while the Fourth Amendment allows you to say you don’t consent to a search, it does not require an officer to advise you of this right. If you give permission, the officer no longer needs probable cause to execute his or her search.
Officers may still go through with the search if don’t give consent, but even if they find contraband or weapons, a lawyer has a chance at getting the case dropped if you did not give permission.
If the officer asks you and your passengers to get out the vehicle, you should comply. If you get out of the car when the officer didn’t ask you to do so, the officer may pull a gun on you because law enforcement is trained to do so. They may think you’re pulling a weapon on them or attempting to run away.
If a police officer or investigator wants to question you about a criminal investigation, you should assert your right to remain silent and have your lawyer present. The Fifth Amendment allows you to avoid self-incrimination: the right to remain silent. Whether you are in custody or not, you should not answer the officer's questions until you have discussed your case with a lawyer. For more information, see our article on what you should do when police want to question you or search your property.
If you are a passenger in a vehicle that is stopped, you are not held responsible for the driver’s conduct and you’ll generally be free to leave unless you do something that police deem suspicious during the course of the stop.
If you think your rights were violated by police, write everything down about the incident so you don’t forget any details. This can include witness names and phone numbers, and contact a lawyer as soon as possible.