What not to do when stopped by police

As a student of the Constitution and a practicing Indianapolis criminal defense attorney who has observed not a few dash cam and body cam videos in my time, I have had a lot of time to reflect upon several issues regarding traffic stops.  I have distilled some of my observations down to a list of what to do versus what not to do when you are stopped by the police.  Before getting started–and this deserves its own separate blog–there are some important things to do (and not do) so that you greatly increase your chances of not getting pulled over by the police.  The main thing to say about not getting pulled over in the first place is this:  do NOT drive dangerously.  Drive in such a way that you do not interfere with the rights of other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.

No, what will get you pulled over is the way you drive.  Here are the most significant driving behaviors to avoid:  (1) tailgating; (2) weaving in and out of traffic at crazy rates of speed; (3) not using your turn signal, then changing lanes and cutting someone off; (4) driving in the passing lane at below the speed limit; (5) driving ridiculously fast; (6) not pulling over for emergency vehicles or stopping for school buses when they are loading or unloading; (7) going crazy fast through a school zone; (8) having your car radio so loud that you can hear it a block away; (9) driving obscenely fast through a parking lot.  There are so many other stupid driving behaviors to avoid.

So if you do get pulled over, here’s a thought:  put yourself in the shoes of the police officer.  So start by doing the following:

  1.  When you see that you are being pulled over, you might want to pull over at the very first sensible location.  Don’t drive until you feel like pulling over.
  2.  Have your driver’s license easily accessible, like in your wallet.  You know the officer is going to ask for it, so have it at the ready. Duh.
  3. Vehicle registration.  Have it ready.
  4. Turn the car off.
  5. Turn the radio off.
  6. This one is very important:  when the officer is in the process of doing a traffic stop on you, cooperate with him or her.  Do not be belligerent.  Do not have attitude.  Probably 99% of the time, you are in the wrong, legally speaking.  You did probably commit the traffic violation, so do not have a chip on your shoulder when you are caught.  You got caught, now be an adult about it, own your responsibility, and be civil.  If you are respectful to the officer, the chances are very high that you will be treated with respect.  But if you are a jerk to the officer, running your mouth, interrupting constantly, the chances are pretty high that it won’t go over too well.  That’s just common sense.
  7. Resist whatever temptation to whine and blame the traffic stop on race or your bumper sticker content or your out-of-state or out-of-county license plates.  Again, police usually pull someone over if that person’s driving behavior was unsafe if not flat-out dangerous (you cut someone off, forcing them to jam on the brakes, almost causing an accident, etc.).
  8. The officer has no idea as to whether or not you have a gun in the car, or whether you are tripping on drugs AND have a gun in the car.  So when you do a sudden movement to your pocket, or under your waistband, or under the seat, etc., the officer rightfully, justifiably and reasonably is put in a tense situation.  Just do NOT do those sudden movements at all.  Just don’t.  When the officer is back at his car, looking your info up on his computer, here’s a thought–don’t drive off.  Then, when the officer pursues you, you might want to refrain from going at a crazy high rate of speed.
  9. If you have been drinking or smoking weed, the odds are very high that the officer can smell it on you, whether it’s your breath, clothes, or just your body reeking from it.  I can write another whole blog on that one, but for now, suffice it to say that cooperation with the officer at this point is crucial.
  10. Be respectful, and own the behavior right up front, as in “I know that I was speeding.”  Don’t make excuses; don’t say that you weren’t speeding when you were doing 80 in a 60.  The officer is not stupid; you both know that you were speeding, so own the behavior.

In summary, those are some good things to do and not do when you are pulled over.  If I were to bottom line it, I would say this:  drive like you actually care about the rights of others as you do your own rights.  Be respectful and courteous in your driving.   But if you choose not to do so, and you are caught driving in a discourteous and dangerous manner, then you might refer to the points I made above.  In all that I have said here, I fully recognize that there are times when the police might make a mistake, just like we do in our jobs.  But when they do make a mistake, things go much better when we relate to them with an attitude of respect.  Maybe the posted sign was obscured by bushes for the reduced rate of speed for the school zone.  If so, say so calmly and respectfully.  You will get better results wherever you are, whether in Indianapolis or Hamilton County or otherwise.   If you messed up and got arrested, perhaps because you violated one or more of the principles above, then give us (Johnson Law Office) a call for dedicated criminal defense.