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Criminal Law Blog

Pulled Over? Here’s What to Do (and What Not to Do)

January 26, 2024

Being pulled over by the police can be a stressful experience, even if you have done nothing wrong. It’s important to know your rights and how to act to ensure your safety and legal protection. As a criminal defense attorney with over 20 years of experience, Janet Altschuler is here to help you understand your rights. Here is what you should do if you have been pulled over by law enforcement, as well as what you should try to avoid. 

What Are Your Rights If You Have Been Pulled Over?

According to the ACLU, both drivers and passengers have certain rights during a police stop. Remember, you have the right to remain silent. This is a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution. If you’re a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, you may silently depart the scene. Exercising your right to silence is not an admission of guilt—you are simply exercising one of your fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution. It also helps you protect yourself legally. 

Reducing Risk to Yourself During a Police Traffic Stop

If you are concerned about the risk to your safety during a police traffic stop, know that there are steps you can take to enhance your security. Here’s what you should do:

  • Stop Your Vehicle Safely: As soon as you notice the police are signaling you to pull over, find a safe place to do so and stop your vehicle.
  • Prepare for the Officer’s Approach: Once stopped, turn off your car, turn on the internal light if it’s dark, open your window partially, and place your hands on the steering wheel. Passengers should place their hands on the dashboard.
  • Comply with Documentation Requests: Upon request, calmly provide your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance.
  • Avoid Sudden Movements: Make sure your actions are deliberate and slow. Always keep your hands visible. Any sudden movements can escalate the situation.

What Should You Do If You Are Arrested or Detained?

Should the situation escalate to an arrest or detention, make sure you know how to protect your rights. 

  • Remain Silent: Clearly state that you wish to remain silent. Do not offer any explanations or excuses. 
  • Request a Lawyer: Ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not sign anything or make decisions without legal counsel.
  • Know Your Phone Call Rights: If arrested, you are usually entitled to make a local phone call. If you call a lawyer, the police cannot eavesdrop on the conversation.

What Should You Do If Your Rights Were Violated?

If you believe your rights were violated during the traffic stop, take the following steps:

  • Document Everything: Write down everything you remember, including the officers’ badge numbers, patrol car numbers, and the agency they belong to.
  • Gather Witnesses: Obtain contact information for any witnesses present during the incident.
  • Seek Medical Attention: If you’re injured, get medical help immediately and photograph your injuries.
  • File a Complaint: You can file a written complaint with the police agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. This can usually be done anonymously.

Understanding your rights and how to behave during a traffic stop can make a significant difference to the outcome of the event. If you need legal assistance or advice, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney like Janet Altschuler.

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