One of the most unpleasant experiences faced by many drivers comes when you see the red and blue flashing lights in our rearview mirror. Many times, you already have an idea about why you are being pulled over; sometimes, you don't. Regardless, how handle that (hopefully) brief exchange with the police officer can have a lasting impact on your driving record, or possibly even on your criminal record.
Generally, police pull drivers over for one of two reasons. Probably the most common reason is simple fundraising for the local government (i.e., "traffic enforcement"). The other reason that police will pull over a driver is on suspicion of some crime. In most cases, the officer is not going to voluntarily tell you the real reason that he or she has stopped you. In either event, most police stops happen when a police officer believes that he or she has caught you engaging in some sort of violation.
The first thing that you can do to make a police stop as safe and unobtrusive as possible should happen before you even start the car. You should make sure that you have your driver's license on your person and that the registration and proof on insurance for the vehicle is easily retrievable. If you don't know where these documents are, that's a potential problem. Under Michigan law, you may present an electronic version of your proof of insurance, such as an image on a cellphone; however, I would not recommend voluntarily handing your cellphone or other electronic device to a police officer.
When the officer approaches your vehicle, roll down your window so that you and the officer can clearly see and hear each other. He or she will probably ask you something like, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" or "Do you know how fast you were going?". There are no good answers to these questions, and the officer really doesn't care if you "know" either of these things. The best response to these questions is to remain silent. Presumably, the officer will have asked you for your license, proof of insurance, and registration. You should tell the officer that you are retrieving these documents and where they are located. For example, you might say "I will be reaching into the glove box to get my registration and proof of insurance, and my driver's license is in my wallet." If you can do so safely, try to have these in plain sight before the officer even approaches your vehicle. The officer may also ask you questions like, "what is your driving record like?". Again, the best answer is no answer.
During the entire stop, keep your hands visible to the police officer, and don't say anything about why you are being stopped. Be polite; don't lie; but don't talk any more than is necessary to keep you and the officer safe. If you have provided your driver's license and other documentation, the officer will already know your name and personal information; therefore, he or she has no reason to ask for it. If you legally have a pistol in the vehicle, it is probably also wise to provide a copy of your CPL permit and tell the officer where the gun is located. If you don't have a CPL permit, then you cannot legally have a pistol in your vehicle.
If the stop is merely a fundraising effort, the officer will take the information that you have given him or her back to the police cruiser and write you a ticket. The best place to argue the merits of the ticket is in court (not on the side of the road), and the ticket will provide you with instructions about how to do so. If the ticket is for a moving violation that is reportable to the Secretary of State, it is always advisable to appear in court and contest the ticket. More often than not, you will be given an opportunity to plead to a non-moving violation, which avoids points on your driving record, a potential increase in your insurance rates, and makes you look like a clean driver the next time you get pulled over. In short, contesting your ticket will probably save you money in the long run.
If, however, the stop is intended as an investigation of a crime, and if the officer still believes that you may be a suspect or have information related to a crime, the traffic ticket will likely not be the end of the stop. The officer may tell you to step out of the vehicle; in that case, step out of the vehicle. The officer may do a pat down search and may even ask you if you have any dangerous items on your person. Tell the officer that you are not consenting to any searches; however, please note that the officer is entitled to search your person for weapons or other items that may case a threat to officer safety. Such a pat down search is not an opportunity for police to attempt to locate drugs or other contraband.
The officer may ask you for your consent to search your vehicle. Once again, the answer is, "NO." Clearly communicate to the officer that you are not consenting to any searches. If the officer elects to search your vehicle anyway, ask the officer is he or she has probable cause to search and why they believe they do. You should also ask to consult with your lawyer and clearly communicate to the officer that you do not wish to speak to him or her without a lawyer present. If you cannot afford a lawyer, ask for a court appointed lawyer. The important thing is that from this point forward that you do not say anything to the officer without an attorney present. It will be tempting to tell your side of the story, but at this point, the officer is not interested in your side of the story. As the Miranda warning states, "anything you say can and will be used against you." Keep in mind that the police officer is better at investigating you than you are at thwarting the investigation.
If you are arrested, contact a lawyer as soon as possible. We can be reached at (734) 636-0960. If you cannot get ahold of an attorney right away, be patient, and keep your mouth closed. Even if you have to wait overnight or even over a weekend to talk to a lawyer, this is far better than going to prison because you helped the police build a case against you.
A couple of side notes: If you are not guilty of any crime, this advice still stands no less than if you were guilty. If you are suspected of a crime that you know nothing about, this only increases the chances that you will accidentally say something that makes you look guilty. Also, if possible and if you can do so safely, use your cell phone and dash mounted camera to record your entire interaction with the police. Such a recording may end up containing evidence that your rights were violated, which can help your lawyer immensely. Most importantly, keep your mouth closed and maintain a posture that assures the police officer that you are no threat to his or her safety.
If you have been arrested for any crime, or if you have been given traffic citation that you intend to contest, please contact us at (734) 636-0960 or go to our criminal defense page for more information.
If you or a loved one have been convicted of a crime and wish to appeal your conviction of sentence, please contact us or visit our felony appeals page for more information.