Know Your Rights. What To Do If You Get Pulled Over By The Police

May 29, 2018 | No Comments » | Topics: TRUTH

So let’s start from the top, with the most basic insight – do not get pulled over. For the sake of obviousness, let’s rundown how to make this happen (many of these are common sense, but well worth reiterating). Two most important rules: 1) Do not break the law in any fashion while driving, and 2) be aware of your surroundings and vehicle at all times.

Let’s elaborate on 1) – Do not speed. Use your turn signals. Drive in the right lane, and avoid passing unless absolutely necessary. Do not text, etc. – if you drive a car and are in any way self aware about doing so, you’ve got these down. Do not carry drugs in your car 2) – Download and use Waze, but remember that it is not infallible, and certainly not a guarantee to keep you safe. Keep your eyes up at all times, always scanning for places that a police officer would sit. Do not have any obstructions to your visibility, including all of your mirrors. Your registrations tags must be current and able to be viewed without obstruction. If you believe that you can manage these to the point that you won’t get pulled over then you can stop reading my sure to be incessant further ramblings after this paragraph, but just remember – you’re a fool. You can control everything I’ve discussed, but you can’t control others, you can’t control your car with surety, and you damn sure can’t control the police.

Now, to the legal issues. If you get pulled over, do not panic. Do not turn around to look at the police vehicle or officer as he approaches. Do not make any fast, jerking movements – just sit still and wait for him to approach. Do not rummage for your license and insurance – wait until he reaches the window and asks for them. Once the officer is at your window, BE RESPECTFUL. I cannot overstate this enough, no matter what your personal opinions or experiences may be, or how you may feel about the police – none of that matters. Every sentence ends with “sir” or “ma’am”. Be calm, and do not raise your voice for any reason. If the officer asks if you know why he pulled you over say “no sir”, and make him tell you. An officer must have probable cause that you were committing a crime in order to pull you over. Once the officer tells you what that crime is do not argue with him, just say “oh, I was unaware”. Do not say you weren’t doing it, do not say you were doing it; just acknowledge it.

If the officer asks to search your car, say “No, I do not consent to a search”. Say “no” confidently and clearly. If he asks you why not, say “Your probable cause for pulling me over was dispelled when you stopped me for (insert offense), and you have no probable cause to conduct a search of my vehicle”. Of note, if the officer has already written you a ticket then say “cited me for” instead of “stopped me for”, and ask him you are free to leave. Speak calmly and clearly, and remember – if you reach the point where an officer asks to search your car, YOU are in control of the situation, not him. It may seem counter-intuitive, but you are the citizen – you have rights, and the full backing of the Constitution. All you need is the knowledge, which you’ll have by the end of this read, and the approach, which will come naturally if you remember that you’re in control of the situation. The officer has to have a reason (probable cause) to search your car – you don’t have to have a reason to deny his request; it’s that simple. If the officer continues to banter you after you deny a search, then say “You do not have a search warrant or probable cause for a search warrant to be issued. Any search of my vehicle without probable cause or a warrant would be a violation of my Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure”.

If the officer asks you to step out of your car, do it. This does not change anything. An officer is allowed, by law, to ask the driver and any passengers to exit the vehicle for his protection. Before you get out of the car roll up all the windows, turn the car off, and take the keys out of the ignition. Once you’re out immediately close all of the doors and lock the car. The officer can make you stand there and question you, but he cannot open your car without your consent or further probable cause for a search. If he asks to search it again, say no again – you have the same rights regarding a search of your vehicle when you’re outside of the car as you do when you’re inside the car. Of note, once you’ve stepped out, the officer can subject you to brief, cursory pat-down. Just keep your cool and let it happen. The officer cannot take your keys out of your pocket during this pat-down and use them to open your car. If he tries to do so, repeat the statement above, reminding him that he is clearly violating your Fourth Amendment rights. Once he’s finished patting you down, ask if you’re free to leave – an officer cannot hold you without a warrant or probable cause for a search, neither of which he will have.

Now a fun, but educational anecdote. I was pulled over by a Michigan State Police officer on my way to a festival a couple of years ago while driving in my car with four friends. The reason? My license plate frame was covering up part of my registration tags. Remember paragraph two of this novella? This is a specific example of why I took the time to remind you of even the most obvious of pointers. The officer came to the window, went back to his patrol car, wrote up the ticket, and then came back to my window, but he refused to hand me the ticket. The officer then asked to search my car; I said no, and we had the conversations as regurgitated above. The officer then asked us to exit the vehicle, so we did. I rolled up the windows, turned the car off, and took the keys out. We all exited, and I closed the doors and locked the car. The officer was very perturbed by all of this, as we had foiled his certain plot to poke around through a door or window if one was left open. As recourse, the officer then says “I smelled weed when you exited the vehicle”. He proceeds to put us all in handcuffs, and then sits us down on the side of the highway next to my locked car. The officer goes back to his cruiser, and we wait, and wait, and wonder as hordes of gawking Forest goers drive by in solidarity. All of a sudden another officer pulls up behind the already present patrol car. Then another, and another, until there are no less than five police vehicles and seven troopers on the scene surrounding my vehicle. The door of the unmarked SUV swings open, and here comes ol’ Fido. We watched the officer walk the drug dog around my car twice – nothing. On the third time around, as he reaches the trunk, the officer very obviously tugs on the dog’s leash, and consequently the dog barks. All of the officers standing around go “oo, ah, yeah, that’s a hit”. One officer comes over to me and tells me that I can give him the keys or they can break the window, but either way they’re now allowed to search my vehicle because the drug dog hit, which at that moment was technically (if not legally or ethically) correct.

With what I believed to be nothing to hide, I gave the officer my keys. Seven officers spent the next half an hour tearing my car apart. They pulled out dash panels, threw all of our gear and equipment to the curb, and unpacked all of our supplies. Just as I thought we were home free, an officer walked over with my friend’s bag and pulled out a small piece that was clearly filled with resin. Fuck, goes my brain. I had no idea that the piece was in the car, and had received repeated reassurances that no contraband of any kind was in the car before we departed. The officer then reached back into the bag and took out a small baggy filled with little white crystals. I felt the life leave my body – past, present, and future, all unwittingly disposed of in this single moment. The officer picked my friend up by his cuffs and took him to a patrol car. The two of them sat inside of the patrol car for what seemed like forever. After the passing of an unbearably long amount of time the officer brought my friend back to the roadside and sat him down once again. The officer then picked me up by the cuffs and walked me down the road a short way. I will never forget the moment that he removed my handcuffs, handed me the piece and the baggy, and said “I want you to walk these down the road and get rid of them. I don’t care how, I don’t care where, and I don’t want to know.” So, of course, I did as he asked. When I got back to my car the other officers had already removed the handcuffs from my friends’ wrists. One officer walked over to me, removed my handcuffs, handed me the keys to my car, and said “Sorry for all the hassle, we really expected this to be a mule car. You guys weren’t assholes, and you seem to know the law, so just get in your car and get out of here. And tell everyone you meet that Michigan State Troopers are the nicest out there.” We loaded our gear back into my car, and that was it. Or should have been, anyway, except that one of my friends had left his laptop charger plugged into my AC/DC adapter for the entirety of the stop. After finally getting our belongings repacked and everyone back into the car I turned the key and, you guessed it…the car battery was dead. I had to go back to the officer, the same one that originally pulled us over, and ask him to jump my car. He did so only after releasing a multitude of sighs and utterances. And then that was it. We drove away into the sunset, and had the most magical Forest to date knowing how close we came to missing it all.

Now, this is a fun little tale, but I did not spend half an hour typing this post just so we could all have a good chuckle at my harrowing experience – there is some good information and knowledge embedded in my recanting. 1) And again, most important, is BE NICE AND KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. After all of that turmoil, after utilizing a ton of their valuable resources, after finding drugs in the car, the officers let us go because we were nice and informed. 90% of the time it’s just that simple. Really. 2) Technically speaking, the law requires that an officer release you once their probable cause for stopping you is dispelled (e.g. you get pulled over for speeding, as soon as you receive the ticket then you are legally free to go). Practically speaking, if an officer wants to hold you and quiz you/patronize you/etc., he or she will do so unless you assert your knowledge regarding your rights and that you are free to leave. 3) As far as a search goes, if an officer has probable cause that you were committing a crime then they can search your car whenever, wherever. But, establishing probable cause to search a vehicle requires illegal things in plain sight, the smell of drugs, evidence of crime, or your consent. If an officer does not have probable cause via any of these mechanisms then they cannot legally search your car. Know this, and be ready to state it if confronted with an unreasonable search request. 4) The smell of marijuana gives an officer the right to conduct a warrantless search that would otherwise be in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. All an officer needs is the smell, and a “fear that evidence is being destroyed”. This “fear” is a bullshit standard, which is left completely up to an officer’s judgment. If confronted with this situation, be ready to be subjected to a search. This loophole is just one gallon of fuel for the raging fire of reasons why you should not have drugs in your car. If an officer is unyielding in his determination to search your car they will very likely do so, and you will be left to hire an attorney and pay legal fees to fight it out in court. This is why courtesy and knowledge are the two most powerful tools in your arsenal in these situations, even more powerful than the law itself; they can often diffuse the situation long before it escalates the point of an overzealous and angry officer that is willing to violate your Constitutional rights just to smite you. 5) A recent Supreme Court decision, Rodriguez v. United States, 135 S.Ct. 1609, now prevents an officer from doing what was done to us. An officer can no longer hold you after their probable cause for a traffic stop has been dispelled in order to allow for time to get a drug dog on the scene. Be prepared to cite the name of this case if you find yourself in such a situation.

– MrBSPrestonEsq