Articles for February 2013

Dealing with Law Enforcement Officers In A Pedestrian Or Motor Vehicle Stop

Most Americans will never step foot in a courthouse.  By far, the most likely court that they will enter will be a municipal court.  However, most people do not realize that they can often avoid going to municipal court if they properly deal with law enforcement officers.  This article will present a few tips on how to deal with a police officer.

A police officer cannot stop an individual, whether you be a pedestrian or in a motor vehicle, without a legitimate reason.  The Fourth’s Amendment of the United States Constitution provide you with protection from unlawful searches or seizures.  Thus, a police officer can only stop you if he or she has a reasonable suspicion that you are involved in a violation of the law.

However, even if the police officer is mistaken, you must nevertheless cooperate with the law enforcement officer.  In Civil Rights decisions, our courts have stated that if a police officer has a good faith belief that you are connected with criminal activity, then he or she is allowed to stop you for a brief period of time.

If you are stopped and are on foot or in a car, the first thing you need to do is to calm yourself.  Do not allow anger to enter into your voice and do not make any quick movements with your arms or legs.  The next thing you should do is to listen carefully to what the officer is telling you.  Chances are your mind is racing and your heart is beating very fast, nevertheless, you must focus on what the officer is asking you.

In most motor vehicle stops, the law enforcement officer will ask you for your driving papers.  These papers include your license, your vehicle’s registration and your automobile insurance identification card.  Keep all of these documents in an easily accessible place in your car, so that if you are stopped, then it will be easy for you to locate them.  If you are stopped on a street, you may also be asked to show identification.  Stop immediately and allow the officer to speak first.  Always address the police officer calmly and quietly.  If you are asked to present identification, slowly reach for and present the officer with your driver’s license.

The key here is for you to make the police officer feel safe. Turn your dome light on at night. Always keep your hands in plain sight. Don’t make any sudden movements. Roll your window down all the way. Stay in the car. Use common sense and don’t put the officer in an uncomfortable situation.  Finally, and of critical import, never argue with the police officer.

While you must be polite and must stop temporarily if stopped by a police officer, you do not have to answer any questions other than your name and other information that will assist the officer in identifying you.  The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you from self-incrimination.  By way of example, this means that you do not have to admit to a police officer that you just committed a motor vehicle violation.  If you were stopped on a street, you do not have to talk to the police about a crime in the neighborhood.

The police officer that stopped you may try to persuade you.  On rare occasions, he or she may even go so far as to tell a white lie in order to induce you to admit to committing a crime or traffic offense.  For example, the office may tell you that he or she (or a witness) observed you involved in the crime or that they saw you commit the moving violation.  Stick to your guns and do not admit to the offense.  The better approach is to wait to contact an experienced attorney who can represent your interests in communicating with law enforcement or the prosecutor’s office.

There are two circumstances where you have to respond more fully to a police officer.  If you are a pedestrian and are stopped by the police, you are required to account for your presence if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that you were loitering.  Likewise, if you did observe a crime that you were not involved in any way, you may choose to aid law enforcement in solving the crime by providing the office with information regarding what you witnesses.  But as a general rule, it is better not to talk to police about a crime, but to nevertheless, fully comply with stopping and identifying yourself.  As soon as you are released from the stop, set up a consultation with an experienced attorney to go over what happened.