What to Do When Stopped for a Traffic Violation: A Criminal Defense Attorney’s Tips
As a practicing criminal defense attorney most of my work comes from representing people charged with serious criminal offenses lawyer. Sometimes I do handle traffic cases, and my experience in that area of the law (as well as my own personal experiences from getting stopped for speeding!) has taught me a few simple rules one should follow when an officer stops your vehicle for a violation of the traffic laws. Here are a few rules that might prove helpful to both you and the officer, and possibly improve your chances of getting some help with your ticket when you get to court.
1. DO pull your car over as soon as possible when the officer turns on his blue lights. You don’t want to continue down the road looking for a place to pull over and make the officer think you’re trying to evade or otherwise disobey the flashing lights–it would be a bad way to begin the interchange between you and the officer, and you might need his help on down the line to get some relief from the criminal citation attorney.
2. DO NOT unfasten your seat belt or begin fumbling in your glove compartment or console looking for your license, insurance card or registration until the officer approaches and asks you to do. Even though your intentions may be good, the officer doesn’t know that, and he may think you’re looking for a weapon. Remember, he doesn’t know who you are–you could be a wanted serial killer or a law abiding citizen. Make him feel safe and things will get off on the right foot.
3. In that vein, DO place your hands on the steering wheel in plain view so the officer can see them. He’ll know you don’t have a weapon and will feel more secure when he approaches your vehicle.
4. DO NOT attempt to exit your vehicle until the officer asks you to do so. Some officers might view this as a form of aggression, so just sit still to he gets to your car and asks you to get out.
5. DO be courteous and follow his commands as quickly and efficiently as possible. Remember, officers are people just like us, and their job is to enforce the traffic laws of the state, county or city in which they work. Most of these officers are professional and courteous, and if you act the same way towards them, it may benefit you on down the line.
6. DO NOT drop names and tell the officer about all the important people you know–most officers become offended by this type of behavior and feel like you might being trying to intimidate them into letting you off the hook. Keep your relationship with the officer on a one-on-one personal basis and it might be beneficial to you.
7. DO NOT whine or give excuses. Believe me when I tell you that a good traffic officer has heard every story imaginable about why you may have been speeding. Some of the stories may have been legitimate, but I guarantee you that a fair number of them were whoppers, and whoppers cause officers to doubt your credibility. If the officer doubts your credibility, he may be less inclined to help you when you appear before the judge. Remember, you’re aim is to make the officer your ally, because a good recommendation from him in traffic court may mean the difference in your case.
8. If the officer does inquire as to why you were speeding, DO be truthful. Most people get stopped for speeding simply because they weren’t paying attention, and if that’s the case, tell the officer. This may enhance your credibility and help you when it counts.
9. DO address him as “sir” or “officer”. He is there in his official capacity, so refer to him as such. I can almost guarantee you that he will be calling you “Mr.” or “Mrs.” or whatever prefix comes before your name, so return the courtesy.
10. After the stop is over and the officer releases you to go on your way, thank him for acting in a professional manner. This is simple good will, and may help you when you get to court.
The purpose of these tips is twofold–first and foremost, you want to insure the officer’s safety by making him feel secure in his interaction with you, as well as protecting yourself from any impulsive action the officer may take if he feels threatened. Second, you want to engender a good relationship with the officer to possibly enlist his help in helping you answer the traffic citation in court with an eye towards a favorable outcome. Many judges dismiss traffic tickets upon payment of court costs or completion of a drivers safety course. Others reduce the speed charged in the citation to a level where it’s not sent in to your car insurance company. However it’s done, getting a speeding ticket handled can potentially save you a lot of money in insurance premiums over the years. If the officer had a good relationship with you, his recommendation may be very important in achieving this end, and these rules may help.