Being pulled over can be an intimidating and frustrating experience, with that said, it is imperative that you do not do anything during your interaction with law enforcement that could potentially make your situation worse. Below, a Fairfax traffic stops lawyer discusses traffic stops in Fairfax and what you should know.
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When you see flashing police lights in your rearview mirror, you should try to pull over to the right side of the road safely as soon as possible. If you are unable to pull over immediately, you should turn your hazards on or somehow signal to the officer that you have seen him and then find the next available safe place to pull over.
Generally, when officers have turned their flashing lights on, they have already done so in an area that is safe to pull over. Sometimes they will follow a vehicle for a significant amount of time in anticipation of a safe place coming up and then they will turn the sirens on.
If you are pulled over at night, then what will be considered a safe area to stop might slightly change. If you are worried about your safety or, if you are on an unlit road or some similar place like that, then it is okay for you to turn your hazards on so the officer is aware that you have seen him, and then continue to drive somewhere more populated and well-lit, such as a gas station, where you can pull over safely.
If pulled over for a daytime stop, the first thing you should do is turn off your radio and roll down your window at least enough to be able to communicate with the officer and pass the documents. You do not have to roll it down all the way but it might be helpful for you to do so in order to make it easier on the officer. You should keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times to make sure that the officer can see them and be confident there are no safety concerns.
From this point, you should let the officer speak first. If he asks you any questions related to why you were pulled over such as, “do you know why I pulled you over,” or “do you know how fast you were going?” then you should be very mindful to not admit guilt for anything or give the officer any evidence that can later be used against you.
This is very important due to the fact that anything you say can later be used against you, however with that said, it is important for you to be composed and polite even as you may refuse to give any evidence to the officer.
As long as an officer knows that is what you are going to do, you can grab your registration from your glove box. The best thing to do is ask or wait for the officer to ask you. You should not grab your registration from the glove box before any of those things happen because for all the officer knows, you’re reaching for a weapon.
It is best for you to not turn your car off especially if you drive an older vehicle because officers worry about the risk of somebody’s car not starting up again and then you are both stuck on the side of the road waiting for a tow truck, which is a scenario nobody wants to be in.
When the officer approaches your vehicle, he’s just going to ask you a few general questions. Sometimes they will not ask anything at all and they will just get your license and registration, write you a ticket, and let you go. Other times, they will ask you general questions related to the stop such as, “do you know how fast you’re going,” why were you speeding,” “do you know why I pulled you over,” or other questions like that.
You do not have to answer these types of questions, but you should always make sure that you’re polite and cooperative in any interaction with the officer so that you don’t hurt yourself later on in court.
You should not admit that you knew you were speeding because that’s an admission of guilt. An admission from you makes their job much easier when it comes down to getting a conviction. The best thing for you to say if they’re asking you if you knew you were speeding is just say, “I don’t want to answer any questions but I’m willing to be cooperative.”
You want to avoid making any sudden movements or being combative or rude with the officer. There’s absolutely nothing to gain by being rude and everything to gain by being polite because when it comes time to being in court and having the officer testify, one of the questions that judges typically ask is whether the driver was polite and cooperative. If he was not, then this tends to go towards sentencing and is viewed very negatively by judges.
The officer will then take your information back to your vehicle for a brief period of time. During this time, usually the officer is running your information through the system to make sure there are no warrants out for your arrest, and they’re generally just trying to get a little information about you.
Then the officer will write you the ticket and have you sign it, or will decide not to write you the ticket, issue you a warning, and send you on your way.
If you are pulled over by an unmarked vehicle, and the officer is in plainclothes and you are worried for some reason this may not be a legitimate officer, you can ask the officer if he will show you his badge. If the officer does not show you his badge this is a huge red flag especially for an officer in plainclothes, because the officer should understand your safety concerns. If this happens, you should call the police department as soon as possible and not unlock your door or roll down your window or do anything until you can verify that the officer in front of you is a real police officer.
You should be able to see his badge and if you are still concerned and are not sure if the badge is real, you can call your local police station to verify. They should be completely understanding and let you know immediately whether you’re in a bad situation that they should send dispatch over for, or if it is a legitimate police officer.
During a traffic stop there are two main mistakes that you should avoid. The first mistake is for both your own safety and the officer’s safety, which is you do not want to do anything that’s going to raise suspicion or threaten the officer in any way. You do not want to anger or alarm the police officer which in turn could cause the officer to want to frisk you or search your vehicle or throw you in handcuffs for being insubordinate. The best thing to do is just be polite, cooperative and keep still.
The second mistake is you do not want to incriminate yourself. You should not admit to anything and not make any statements because anything you say is going to be repeated in court and you don’t want to build the officer’s case for him. Simply stay quiet and consult with an attorney as soon as you get the chance.
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