What Is Police Procedure at a Traffic Stop?

We have all been there: the flashing lights behind you as you are driving often in conjunction with the order to pull over on the police megaphone bullhorn. You are now subject to a traffic stop. What happens next can play a big part in your future regarding a traffic ticket or an arrest. How you conduct yourself is important and it is vital to know your rights when being pulled over.

You may be pulled over because:

  • The officer observed you violating a traffic law, such as speeding, rolling through a stop sign, or running a red light.
  • You have a “fix-it” problem with your vehicle, such as brake light that doesn’t work or a broken turn signal
  • You are suspected of drunk and/or drugged driving based on your driving behavior, such as drifting across lanes or other erratic actions
  • You are suspected of having committed or being involved in a crime; this may be based on the description of your vehicle or your physical description
  • You have outstanding warrants
  • You are being stopped because you are a witness to a crime

In any case of a traffic stop, law enforcement must have probable cause for pulling you over. That means they have a suspicion that is unbiased, reasonable, and specific that you have engaged in some type of violation or criminal behavior (or that you are a witness to such behavior). They cannot stop you for no reason at all.

Police can ask you for your name, address, and age. Or they can ask you for your license, car registration, and proof of insurance. They can question you about anything else but you are not required to answer them other than to offer your ID. They can also pat you down but nothing beyond that unless you are arrested. You may be asked if they can search your vehicle. You do no have to comply with this request. Only if the officer obtains a search warrant are you required to have your vehicle searched. If, however, the officer sees something illegal in your car by glancing in the windows, this may act as probable cause for a search.

Your Rights in a Traffic Stop

When being pulled over, it is best to stay calm and remain polite. Keep you hands on your steering wheel where they are observable until the officer reaches your door. You do not have to answer any questions such as “do you know why I pulled you over?” You do not have to answer questions about your citizenship, where you were born, or how long you have been in this country. Invoke your right to remain silent. You can tell the officer that you are going to do so. Do not admit to anything.

Do not resist, try to flee, or evade. Don’t do anything to obstruct the officer. It is best not to lie or provide false documentation. If you are arrested, tell the officer that you wish to remain silent and request an attorney. You will be allowed to make a phone call after an arrest which should be to an attorney or to someone who can get you an attorney. However, law enforcement can listen in to your conversation with anyone other than an attorney so do not say anything that could be used against you.

Arrested for a Crime in Tacoma?

If you are arrested for a crime after being pulled over in a traffic stop or in any other situation, your first priority should be to engage the services of a trusted criminal defense lawyer. At Hester Law Group, you can work with a legal team that has more than 130 years of collective experience. Our attorneys provide an aggressive approach dedicated to helping you avoid penalties and obtaining the best possible case result.

Contact us at (253) 300-3034 or through our online request form for a free, initial consultation about your case.