Even when you know you haven’t done anything wrong, a chill and feeling of stiffness enters most of our bodies when a cop car is near or is seen in our rear-view mirror. The anxiety really sets in if the flashing lights turn on.
Cuss words may fly out of our mouths and questions like “What did I do?” or “Was I speeding?” will enter our minds.
If you know you’re in the wrong or have something suspicious in your vehicle, the anxiety may ramp up even more.
The number one thing to remember, is that you do have rights. You don’t have to submit your entire being and life story to the police.
When you see those flashing lights, pull over as soon as possible in an area that allows the officer room to walk. Roll down your window immediately, eliminate any noise, and if it’s dark out, turn on your dome light. Doing so indicates to the officer, even before they’ve reached your vehicle that you are ready to begin the process.
Rights to remember
- Your right to know why you were pulled over: Cops can pull you over for anything they deem as reasonable suspicion. Sometimes this can be very minor and overly zealous officers may take advantage of this right. Nevertheless, if they don’t tell you, right away why you were pulled over, ask. It is your right to know. Sometimes, the reason is so minor, you may have the legal standing to fight the charge.
- Your right to say as few words as possible: Let alone for some basic identifying questions, the phrase we all know, “You have the right to remain silent,” can be exercised from the moment you’re stopped. Keeping quiet staves off self-incrimination.
- Your right to film: With belief in law enforcement shrinking, recording by private citizens has become a more common occurrence. If you want to record your traffic stop, try to do so without having the phone in your hand so you can fully cooperate without the phone being a distraction. If there is someone in the car with you, ask them to record or mount the phone on the dash.
- Disagreeing with the officer: You can’t be arrested for showing an attitude and defending your actions, but in the heat of the moment, it likely won’t help you either. Compromise is not a likely outcome when dealing with the police. If you feel you were mistreated or discriminated against, use another right of yours, and defend yourself in a court hearing, not on the roadside.
- Refusing a breathalyzer test: If you are asked to take a breathalyzer test to identify your blood alcohol content (BAC,) you have the right to refuse. Unless you are positive that you’ll blow under the legal limit, and even in that circumstance, considering when drinking, people are often misguided and overly sure of themselves, refusing may not be in your best interest. If your state has an implied consent law (Wisconsin does,) you consent to a BAC test as soon as you receive your driver’s license. If you refuse, you can still be charged with a driving under the influence (DWI) or operating while intoxicated (OWI) with other evidence suggesting your intoxication. No matter your decision, being pulled over after drinking is not an ideal situation. An equally less ideal decision? Deciding to drive in the first place. Protect yourself and others on the road by getting a ride home.
- Your right to deny an unlawful search: If a cop has suspicions, they will want to search your vehicle, but at all costs, and in a respectful manner, do not allow this to happen. A cop can only lawfully search your vehicle with your consent, if an illegal substance is in plain sight, if you have been arrested, if probable cause suggests that a crime has been committed or evidence will be destroyed once you leave. Unlawful searches do happen though, which is why recording can come in handy which is why recording your interaction can come in handy.