Natty Shafer Law

Utah lawyer for criminal and immigration cases

Handling the Traffic Stop

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At one time or another, nearly everyone will have a police officer pull their car over. While it is never going to be a great experience, there are steps you can take to prevent it from becoming a disastrous experience.

The most important step is that you remain cordial and polite to the officer. Address them as “officer” or “sir/ma’am.” The best case scenario for every traffic stop is that the officer lets you go with a warning. Politeness never hurts when a police officer is deciding whether or not to ticket you, and a police officer can nearly always find more citations to add. Do not give an officer reason to do so.

Next, to the extent possible, you want to decline to answer any questions. Yes, this can be done in a polite manner. You are required to give your driver’s license and proof of insurance when you are pulled over, but you are not required to answer questions. Almost immediately an officer will start asking questions, such as, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Or, “Where are you coming from? Where are you heading?” Regardless of how you answer, the police officer is going to enter it into the computer and it will appear in their police report. If you have any intention of fighting the underlying charge, you do not want the officer to remember your answers. It will help the officer to distinguish you from the many other people they have pulled over. Months can pass between a citation and the trial, and it is quite possible that an officer will not remember anything about you. If an officer is honest with the judge, the case may have to be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Also, you do not want to help the prosecutor with your answers. The answers you give will help the prosecutor tell a narrative about how the traffic incident occurred. Without that narrative, a prosecutor has to tell a very boring story that begins and ends with the traffic citation. Neither judges nor juries give such stories much weight.

It should go without saying that you never impugn an officer’s motives. Most officers are just doing their jobs. Even if they are wrongly accusing you, chances are that it was an honest mistake.

Finally, you do not want to do anything to add further charges. Remain in your seatbelt, and turn off the car engine while you wait for the officer to approach. Do not consent to have the officer search the car; you are not required to consent and nothing an officer finds is going to help you. For the same reason, do not submit to field sobriety tests. You do, however, have to submit to a chemical test if an officer arrests you for a DUI. You will know you are under arrest after the officer tells you. Refusing to take a chemical test (a breathalyzer, urine analysis, or blood test) carries harsher penalties than the underlying DUI.

Following these simple steps may not prevent you from receiving a traffic ticket—the severity of the alleged offense will be taken into account—but they will improve your chances at prevailing during a trial and reduce the likelihood of additional charges being added.

Author: Natty Shafer

Attorney practicing immigration and criminal law

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