Being pulled over by the police is nerve-wracking, even when everything goes well. In many cases, police will ask to search your car, demand that you take a breathalyzer test, or ask probing questions that are designed to make you say something you shouldn’t. If you’re stopped, you should be polite, say as little as possible, and call a lawyer as soon as you can.
The Simmrin Law Group works exclusively for those accused of crimes and traffic violations, and we know how to win cases. The first step in protecting yourself if you’ve been accused of a crime during a traffic stop in California is understanding your rights under the law.
California Traffic Stop Dos and Don’ts
If you see squad car lights behind you, you should pull over to the right-hand shoulder of the road as soon as it is safe to do so. If there is no shoulder, look for somewhere you can pull off the road so that you are out of traffic. Always put on your turn signal to let the officer know you intend to pull over, even if there is no safe place to do so immediately.
During a traffic stop, you should follow this simple checklist:
- DO put on your turn signal (or hazard lights, if you have to slow down and look for a place to stop)
- DO pull over slowly and carefully
- DO try to stop the car somewhere well-lit if possible (at night)
- DO consider turning on the interior lights so that officers can see you are not a threat
- DO keep your hands on the wheel and wait for officer instructions to reach for anything
- DON’T stop the car in traffic
- DON’T get out of the car unless officers request it
- DON’T try to “ditch” anything out the window
Once police approach the vehicle, be polite and respectful and comply with any instructions they give you.
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A Traffic Stop Can Be a Stressful Situation
Being pulled over by the police can be stressful, even if you know that you have not done anything wrong. You may be worried about an officer writing you a ticket or even arresting you if you have committed a more serious offense. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that the officer is likely nervous as well.
Being a police officer can be a dangerous job. Even a routine traffic stop can turn deadly. Help put the officer at ease by turning off your ignition, keeping your hands visible, and turning on the dome light in your vehicle if you get stopped at night. If an officer does not feel that you pose a threat, they are far more likely to let you off with a warning.
Suspicious behavior can quickly escalate an interaction with a police officer. By making it clear that you do not pose a threat, an officer will likely be much calmer and more inclined to let you off with a warning.
What Are the Standard Steps in a Routine Traffic Stop?
There are some standard procedures you can expect a police officer to follow if you are pulled over for a traffic violation in California. If the officer has no reason to believe that you are guilty of any other crime, aside from the violation for which they have stopped you, they will likely stick to these few simple steps.
Along with asking you any questions the officer feels are relevant to the situation, they will ask for your license, registration, and proof of insurance. They will then run your information through their computer to perform a quick background check. They will see if you have anything on your criminal or driving record that might require further action.
If your record is clean, and you are not behaving in a way that alerts the officer to any other potential crime, your traffic stop will likely not entail much other than these steps. When other factors come into play, however, the situation could get much more complicated.
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What Should I Say to the Police During a Traffic Stop?
The single most important rule is to say as little as possible.
You can (and should) be cooperative and give basic information when requested, such as your name. However, you should not give the police any unnecessary information. Don’t assume you know what might or might not make you look bad—officers know how to mislead people into saying the wrong thing. Here are some examples:
- When the officer asks if you know why they pulled you over, say, “No sir.”
- If the officer asks why you were speeding (or ignored a stop sign, etc.), don’t explain.
- It’s okay to answer by saying, “Officer, I’ve been advised never to answer questions at a traffic stop.”
Obviously, you do not want to irritate or provoke the officer. But it’s okay to calmly and politely refuse to answer. Declining to answer questions is within your legal rights, and it’s the single best thing you can do to protect yourself.
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What If the Officer Wants to Search My Car?
If you haven’t been arrested yet, there are only two ways an officer can legally search your car in most cases. They can either search because:
- They have a warrant
- You give them permission
However, officers won’t ask you if you’ll give them permission. Instead, they’ll ask what’s in your trunk (or back seat) and then ask, “Do you mind if I take a look?” If you tell them that they may, you’ve now given them permission for a search. Never do this—even if you believe your car is 100% “clean.”
Instead, politely tell the officer, “Sir (or ma’am), I have a rule that I don’t consent to searches.”
Even without your permission, officers may look through the windows with their flashlights. If something suspicious is in plain view, they then have grounds to investigate further and potentially to search the car.
Am I Required to Take a Breath Test?
Officers may suspect you of drinking and driving, or they may ask for a breath test simply to see the result. In most cases, you are allowed to say no, as long as you haven’t been arrested yet.
There are only two main groups of people who must submit to the breath test even if they haven’t been arrested. Those groups are drivers under the age of 21 and drivers currently on probation for a DUI charge.
If you don’t belong to either of these groups, you can politely decline the breath test. You are also allowed to decline field sobriety tests. This doesn’t mean you won’t be arrested, but it does mean the officer (and prosecutor) have much less evidence with which to charge you.
If you are arrested, however, you are legally required to take either a breath, blood, or urine test. Failure to do so will likely result in extra criminal penalties.
Is It Possible to Get Out of a Ticket?
Sometimes, yes. But it doesn’t work the way most people think.
Many people believe that if they apologize for the law they broke, the officer might show mercy. The truth is, if you apologize for speeding (or another offense), all you’ve really done is admit that you broke the law. A better approach is this:
- Be polite and respectful the whole time
- Follow the rules above
- When the officer has your information, ask them before they go back to their vehicle if they could let you off with a warning
It’s as simple as that. Whether the officer gives you a warning is entirely up to their own discretion, and it’s okay to ask.
Is It Possible to Get Out of Being Arrested?
If an officer believes you’ve committed a criminal offense, they’re going to charge you—there is no way out. However, that doesn’t mean they will necessarily arrest you and take you to jail. They have the option of giving you a “citation,” which has a court date printed on it.
If you have been polite and respectful the whole time, and they say they’re going to arrest or charge you, ask if they could give you a citation and let you go home tonight. It’s unlikely they will say yes, but in some cases, it works.
Either way, the most important thing you can do is fight the charge. Even one conviction can have consequences that last for years. You need to talk to a Los Angeles, CA traffic violation lawyer.
Tips for Avoiding a Difficult Interaction With Police
There are many simple things you can do to ensure things go as smoothly as possible if you are stopped by the police. Keeping your car clean will help because the officer will not be curious about whether you have anything illegal in the mess. You should also shut off your radio when the officer approaches as a sign of cooperation.
Be friendly, but do not try to joke around about the situation. The officer likely will not appreciate your humor. Of course, one of the worst things you can do is try and offer the officer a bribe. Offering a bribe is likely a more serious offense than the one you face, and it can lead to far more trouble.
Do Police Ever Make False Charges During a Traffic Stop
Unfortunately, there have been incidents in which California police officers have been charged with falsifying records at traffic stops. It isn’t likely to happen, but it is possible. This is why it is important to understand how to protect your rights during a traffic stop. You need to make sure you don’t do anything that would make it easier to make false charges against you.
Some Interactions Must Be Resolved in Court
If you are unable to convince an officer to give you a warning during a traffic stop, then you will either be facing a ticket or an arrest. If you are arrested, you will need to go to court to have your case heard or sign a plea bargain.
However, if you face a ticket, you have options. You can either simply pay the fine or choose to argue it in court. Generally, disputing a traffic ticket is not something for which you would hire a lawyer. The fines tend to be small enough that hiring a lawyer is not worth it. People typically save hiring a lawyer for a traffic arrest.
Since you will likely be fighting a ticket on your own, it is important to make sure that you are fully informed about the laws that may apply to your case. The more you know, the better positioned you will be to have your ticket dismissed.
Talk to a California Lawyer for Free
Whether you have been pulled over for a traffic violation, reckless driving, driving without a license, or worse, it’s just the start of a much longer case. Don’t face your charges without professional help.
At the Simmrin Law Group, we may be able to help you avoid jail time, dismiss the charges, keep your driver’s license or even win your case. Let us give you a FREE consultation and help you get started.