Steps to Take if You are Pulled Over for a Traffic Stop

Seeing the flashing blue lights of a police cruiser in your rearview mirror can instantly make your heart drop. Anxiety and even a sense of panic are not uncommon. But it’s essential to stay calm and remember a few basics about your rights and how to handle a traffic stop.

Maintaining your composure can help minimize your legal problems and potentially preserve your freedom. Greenville criminal defense attorney Erika Baldwin offers a few tips for what to do if you’re pulled over.

First Things First: Keep Yourself Safe

If you see the lights of a police car, pull over as soon as possible to a safe place. Make sure you are not too close to the highway or interstate. If it’s nighttime, try to pull over in a well-lit area. Then, turn off the vehicle, partially roll the window down, and place your hands on the steering wheel. Do not open the car door but instead wait for the police officer to approach.

You will be asked by the police officer to hand over your license, registration, and proof of insurance. If these are in your glovebox, ask the officer for permission to retrieve them. Otherwise, keep your hands on the steering wheel.

Knowing Your Rights During a Traffic Stop

The officer may ask for your permission to search your vehicle. You should decline this request. But the officer may still order you out of your vehicle if he or she suspects evidence of a crime is in it. Cooperate but clearly, firmly, and politely communicate again that you do not consent to the search. This refusal of consent could prove helpful later.

You have the right to remain silent and should exercise this right. You are not required to answer questions such as, “Do you know how fast you were going?” You can simply respond to the officer by saying, “I would prefer to exercise my right to remain silent.” If you are asked more questions later, repeat the same sentence. Do not say anything else or offer additional information.

What to Do if You Are Arrested

If, for whatever reason, the police officer places you under arrest, do not resist. Do not protest or even assert your innocence. The only thing that you will want to tell the officer is that you want to speak with an attorney. Do so calmly and politely. Being arrested can be frightening, so try not to let the adrenaline or emotion of the experience overwhelm you.

Sometimes police detain individuals without arresting them. This is common when police are conducting investigations. You still have the right to refuse to answer questions and should remain silent. Ask the officer if you are free to leave; if so, calmly walk away.

Was There Probable Cause?

Police must have probable cause to pull you over, arrest you, or search your vehicle. This means there must be evidence such that a reasonable individual would believe a crime is being or was committed. With respect to a traffic stop, this could mean, for example, evidence of speeding. But the police could also believe there is evidence of some other, potentially more serious crime, like drug possession.

You may believe, correctly, that the police did not have reasonable cause to pull you over. Don’t argue with the officer and escalate the situation. If evidence is obtained without probable cause, it may be suppressed in court.

The Value of Experienced Legal Counsel

Being pulled over isn’t enjoyable, and it’s tempting to plead your case to the officer. This will almost certainly work against you, however. If you are stopped, and even if you’re arrested, remain calm, be respectful, and cooperate with the police officer.

There will be time later to challenge the evidence and tell your version of what happened. It starts with retaining a skilled defense attorney in Upstate South Carolina. Call Baldwin Law today.

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