Monday, May 7, 2012

What Not To Do During a Traffic Stop – Part 1

There is something intimidating about seeing a police officer all decked out with his gun, handcuffs, pepper spray, radio, and whatever else goes in those leather pouches clipped to his belt.  It’s that feeling of intimidation that makes you feel like you’re doing something wrong, even when you’re not.  For the most part, this is probably a healthy level of respect for a profession that is both underappreciated and underpaid.  However, this same intimidation can get you into a lot of trouble if not checked against reality…and the law.  In that spirit, I have written a 2 part post of several things you should NOT do during a routine traffic stop.  (These points are advice on how to act during a traffic stop, not how to get out of a ticket) 

DON’T pull over in a dangerous location.  That is, don’t pull over in a place where you, the officer, or other drivers will be placed at risk.  Our instinct tells us to pull over immediately or risk facing criminal charges for evading an officer.  However, Alabama law specifically provides a defense to such a charge as long as “the person stop[s] his or her vehicle within a reasonable time and at a reasonable location based on the facts and circumstances of the stop.” Ala. Code §13A-10-53.  I have successfully defended a client in the courtroom against this exact charge after he was signaled to by an officer however continued driving three blocks, pulling into his own driveway.  He was arrested in the driveway and charged with 5 different offenses, including DUI, attempting to evade an officer, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, and running a stop sign (the initial reason for the traffic stop).  We took the case to trial.  He was acquitted (not guilty) of all charges except for running the stop sign, which he freely admitted to.  His behavior during the stop were in line with the points of this post, and he came out on top.  In a nutshell, don’t pull over on a bridge or when the shoulder is narrow.  Don’t pull over in an unlit area at night.  If you are close to a well-lit parking lot or police station, turn on your hazard lights and proceed there.  The key is that your reaction to the officer’s signal be reasonable. 

DON’T unbuckle your seatbelt.  My first instinct after turning the car off is to unbuckle my seatbelt.  Lots of people are the same way, but the best action is to leave your seatbelt buckled throughout the traffic stop, unless the officer asks you to step out of the car.  The officer may have pulled you over because of speeding or a blown tail light.  If your seatbelt is off when he approaches your car, it’s your word against his on whether you were using it or not.

DON’T get out of the car, unless told to do so by the officer.  We see this on TV all the time.  Getting out of the car can make the officer nervous and turn a routine traffic stop into something more.  Stay seated behind the wheel and wait for the officer to approach your vehicle.

Part Two will be posted soon.

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