Everyone knows that sinking feeling when they see flashing red lights in the rearview mirror. Even if it is a simple traffic violation it is intimidating to get pulled over by a police officer. In light of recent news stories of routine traffic stops getting out of hand it is important to know what your rights are as a citizen when getting pulled over by a police officer.
What should I do right away when I get pulled over?
First of all pull over to an area where it is safe and turn off your engine. It is best to place your hands on the steering wheel and roll your window down all the way. Wait before rummaging around in the vehicle for your ID or insurance. The officer will not know what you could be looking for (or hiding). Be courteous with the officer and that will help you both stay calm and comfortable.
Under what conditions can they search me?
If an officer plans to issue you a ticket then they are allowed to tell you, as the driver, and any passengers to get out of the vehicle. If they have reasonable suspicion that you could be carrying weapons then they can pat your body down. Patting you down is a different story from searching your car.
Can a police officer search my vehicle without a reason?
A police officer cannot immediately search your vehicle without reason. When you get pulled over an officer will watch for "furtive movement," or sudden odd movements. That can indicate that you are trying to hide items in the car or under your seat. The officer can also look for any incriminating evidence in plain sight such as joints, open bottles, paraphernalia, etc. Any of these reasons are enough to provide reason to search your vehicle.
It is important to know that the police are not supposed to use routine traffic stops as a reason to dig through your car. If an officer searches your vehicle without reason that it could be a defense against a criminal charge.
Do I have to answer the officer's questions?
Police officers will ask you a lot of questions, especially if they are suspicious that you might be committing criminal activity. It is always in your best interest to be calm and polite. Just know that anything you say can be used against you in court. They might be asking you questions so that you admit guilt. Do not tell them your life story or any excuses because it can be twisted to show guilt. Answer their questions with factual information such as your name and address. You are allowed to tell them that you would like to remain silent and speak with your lawyer.
Do I have to take the sobriety tests?
Yes, in New York it is required that you comply with the requested sobriety tests. If an officer suspects you of drinking and driving then they will ask you to take a breath-alcohol and coordination test. If you fail or refuse the tests then you will be arrested.
What should I do if I am arrested?
Again, do not give them a statement in regards to your guilt. Any excuses or reasoning can be used against you. Comply with the officer and stay calm. Make sure to remember the officer's badge number and name. It is very important to ask for a lawyer right away. The sooner you can follow legal guidance in these situations the better.
If you have found yourself treated unfairly at a traffic stop or charged with a criminal offense then contact an experienced defense attorney right away.