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Being Pulled Over for a Traffic Violation or Ticket

How should I act if I get pulled over by the police?
First and foremost, this is not the time to get hysterical. Stay calm, lower your driver side window, and stay put while the police officer approaches you. Keep your hands on the steering wheel in plain view. If it is dark outside, turn on your inside light so that the officer will be able to see inside the car and be assured that there is no danger to her or him. Avoid rummaging in your glove compartment, on the floor, or in a bag. Similarly, do not suddenly disappear from view by bending down to pick up something from under the seat. You need to keep in mind that to an officer any traffic stop carries the potential for a life threatening attack, and misunderstandings must be avoided by the driver, not the officer!

Do not get out of your car unless the officer asks you to do so. Follow instructions, and give the officer you license, registration and insurance information when she or he asks for it. Treat the officer with the same respect and decency with which you expect others to treat you. Do not let your mouth get the better of you, and instead answer short and to the point. A simple “yes sir” or “no ma’am” will go a long way when seeking to avoid admitting to breaking the law.

If the officer turns on all the light on the squad car, remember that this is not done to embarrass you but instead to provide a modicum of safety to the officer. Cars coming from behind will be less likely to overlook the parked cars and thus will not strike the officer; similarly, the extra light will help the officer to stay safe. The same is true for the flashlight the officer carries. Remember that the officer is not trying to intentionally blind you but instead she or he is maximizing the odds of making this a safe stop for everyone involved.

Keep in mind that the officer does have the right to look into your car from the outside. If she or he suspects that anything illegal is going on, the officer may investigate further. This is not the time to argue with the officer! Remember that the name and usually also number of the officer will be on the citation and if you feel that your rights were violated you will be able to take this up with the desk sergeant later on.

Is it true that there is a ticket quota police officers have to fill?
Quite possible this is the most common assumption among cited motorists. Yet it is interesting to note that no official documents have ever been produced that show beyond doubt that a police department is ordering its officers to cite a specific number of motorists on any given day. In the same vein, however, it is important to remember that while there is no officially spelled out number of tickets that should be given to erring motorists, police officers – just like any other group of employees – are subject to performance reviews.

Thus, if an officer continuously returns to the department office with no tickets to turn in and no citations that were written, sooner or later the chief will suspect that the officer is not doing a good job. This of course illuminates another mystery, namely that of the discretion each officer is permitted to exercise when faced with the decision to issue a ticket or let the driver off with a warning. If you are stopped by a traffic cop, your odds of receiving a ticket are much higher than if you were stopped by a campus security officer. In the end it is up to you to fight a ticket if you believe it to be unfair.

Is it really necessary for an officer to block the street when writing a ticket?
While during rush hour traffic this seems like a thoughtless inconvenience to the other motorists, put yourself in the officer’s boots! Consider that other drivers are speeding by the parked cars and very often cut it quite close. Thus, rather than risking an accident and also giving her- or himself a bit of room with which to work, an officer will frequently choose to block the street.

Is the officer trying to rub it in when asking if I know why they stopped me?
When an officer approaches you, she or he is not trying to one up you. Instead, they are establishing a rapport with you. Additionally, the officer is waiting to hear if you will admit guilt. Since many motorists will later on fight the citation in court, it is imperative that the officer is able to recall the conversation she or he is having with you during the interaction. Every detail is being recorded and thus will become part of a court record if you decide to dispute the ticket.

This is a practice worth imitating. Just like the officer you too should go ahead and record the conversation. In addition to the foregoing, jot down the facts of the traffic stop, such as what you were doing just before you were stopped. Note exactly where you were stopped and how fast you were really going. Record the weather conditions and also the road conditions. Document the flow of traffic around you as well as the overall traffic conditions before you were stopped.

Are my rights violated if I am stopped for questioning?
Before you cry foul, ask why you were stopped. Do not let your mouth get the better of you lest you give the officer a whole host of reasons why they should not only question but also detain you. At the same time, it is noteworthy that you are under no obligation to answer any questions except those that request information with respect to your identification. Similarly, while an officer is permitted to pat you down if she or he suspects that you are carrying a weapon concealed on your person, but you are not obligated to consent to any further search.

Do not physically resist a search! This might make matters worse. If you feel that you have been stopped for a long time now and there seems to be no indication if the officer has verified your ID, you do have the right to ask if you are currently under arrest and if so for what reason. Do not simply get up and try to get away. Instead, go on record and request an answer that will help you to make up your mind on how to proceed.

What are the rules about being stopped while I am driving?
The police have a right to stop you, and you have the right to ask the officer why she or he stopped you. You are obligated to provide the officer with your driver’s license and also your registration. When presented with a ticket, you may refuse to sign it, but this will quite possibly cause you to be arrested. Remember that signing the ticket is not an admission of guilt and you will be able to dispute it later on in court.

There are times when the police will set up road blocks and randomly conduct sobriety and licensing checks. When you are stopped in conjunction with such a road block, you are required to cooperate. While the average officer will not randomly stop cars to check for expired registrations or invalid drivers’ licenses, if there are grounds for a suspicion that your registration is expired or your car is not registered at all, then an officer does have the right to stop you.

What are the rules when it comes to an officer searching my car?
The United States Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. A search warrant is usually necessary before a police officer is permitted to search your person or your property. There are some exceptions to this rule, however.
If you give the officer the green light and say that you will not mind if she or he searches your car, then a warrant is not needed. It is important that you understand that you are under no obligation to consent to a search. Do not raise your voice or let your temper get the better of you; instead, simply tell the police officer that you object to any search.

Another exception to the need for a warrant is probable cause. If the police officer is in the possession of information that would lead to a reasonable conclusion that a search of your car or person will lead to evidence of an unlawful act or activity or contraband, then your consent is not needed.

If you are arrested, the police officer has the right to search your person and also your immediate sphere of influence in the car, such as the passenger compartment. Interestingly, this does not include the trunk of the car.

Lastly, the need for a warrant may be excused if there is a bona fide emergency. For example, if a failure to search your car would lead to the loss of evidence, the police have probable cause, or the search is the direct result of an arrest. Additionally, if the car is taken to the police station, a search is permitted. Whatever is in plain view may be seized by the police.
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