You Just Got Pulled Over by a Cop - What do you do now?
Its nighttime and you are alone. You have just been pulled over by a police officer. His “Christmas tree” lights atop his car are revolving and his spot light is aimed directly at you from behind. You are understandably tense - so, unfortunately, is he, for he has been taught that roadside stops are very dangerous for him. He is edgy and he is armed.
First, let's talk about the evolution of officer training. Over the past few years, their training has emphasized officer safety first. The consequence of this emphasis is fairly obvious - officers these days are more prone to draw their weapon sooner to protect themselves from perceived danger, thus placing you at greater risk than in the past.
What do you do to safeguard yourself from harm and not incriminate yourself?
I tell my clients that they must first think about safeguarding themselves, especially if they are a person of color. The less movement, the better. Therefore, before the officer approaches your car, roll your driver side window all the way down so you will not have to make a move to do so once he approaches. Next, place both of your hands on top of the steering wheel. In this position, the officer will be able to see both of your hands. Do not then move your hands or make any sudden moves, as the cop will be nervous as he approaches your car and will most likely have his hand on his firearm, ready to deploy.
The officer has now approached you. Your window is already rolled down, your hands are atop your steering wheel. He will then shine his flashlight into your face and then into your car, looking for weapons and contraband in plain view. He will ask you for your license and car registration. With your hands still on top of your steering wheel, you inform him that these items are either in your wallet / in your glove compartment / in your purse. You then obtain his permission to reach for these items. Once he gives his permission to retrieve these items, then and only then do you reach into your wallet, et cetera, for your license and registration. You do so slowly, with no sudden movement. Once you hand these items to the officer, you place your hands back on top of the steering wheel. At this point, the officer should begin to relax and take his hand off of his weapon.
All during this process, you keep silent. You volunteer no information to self-incriminate yourself. The officer will probably then start asking you questions in a friendly tone of voice, all the while implying that he may be sympathetic and perhaps not arrest you. This is all a part of his training - he will pretend to by your friend, to be empathetic and polite, hoping that you will start talking voluntarily before you are placed under arrest and informed of your Constitutional right to remain silent and to have an attorney present. Say as little as possible.
At this point, the officer may let you go. More likely, he will order you out of your car, especially if he smells any alcohol or sees any contraband. Decline to answer his questions without having your attorney present.
My future article will address what to do when you are stopped for DUI (i.e. Driving Under the Influence).