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Roadside Stops

Learn what to say and what not to say and when vehicle searches are legal. Your battle to beat a ticket begins the instant you realize you’re being stopped by a police officer. You will be in a much better position to challenge your ticket in court if you take a few simple steps when you are pulled over.

When You See the Police Car

If a police car is following you with its siren blaring or emergency lights flashing, pull over to the right safely and quickly. Use your turn signal to indicate any lane changes from left to right, and slow down fairly quickly, but not so quickly that the officer will have to brake to avoid hitting you. Pull over as far to the right as possible so that, when the officer comes up to your window, he won’t have to worry about being clipped by vehicles in the right lane. By stopping as soon as you can, you’ll have a better chance of figuring out exactly where the officer says you committed a violation. You may want to return to that area later to make sure the officer was telling the truth about how he judged your speed, saw your turn, or witnessed any other violation.

Right After You Stop

After you’ve pulled over to a safe spot, you might want to show the officer a few other token courtesies. At this point, you have little to lose and perhaps something to gain. First off, roll down your window all the way.

You may also want to turn off the engine, place your hands on the steering wheel, and, if it’s dark, turn on your interior light. This will tend to allay any fears the officer may have. (After all, police officers are killed every day in such “ordinary” traffic-stop situations, and the officer’s approach to the vehicle is the potentially most dangerous.) Don’t start rummaging through your back pocket for your wallet and license, or in your glove compartment for your registration, until the officer asks you for them. For all he knows, you could be reaching for a gun. If you are at all concerned that the person who stopped you is not actually a police officer (for example, if the car that pulled you over is unmarked), you should ask to see the officer’s photo identification along with his badge. If you still have doubts, you can ask that the officer to call a supervisor to the scene or you can request that you be allowed to follow the officer to a police station. Should You Get Out of Your Car? An officer who stops you for an alleged traffic violation has the right to insist that you and your passengers get out of your car. You should do so if asked. Also, getting out of your car may make it easier for you to check road conditions, the weather, and the place the violation supposedly occurred. However, many police officers prefer that you stay in your car and will tell you to stay there if you start to get out. If this happens, obviously you should cooperate. If you get out of the car against the officer’s orders, don’t be surprised to see a gun pointing at you. Cops are trained to expect the worst.

Talking to the Officer

Many people stopped by an officer make the mistake of saying the wrong thing to him and failing to say the right things. And a case can be won or lost depending on what you say or don’t say to the officer. Don’t speak first. Especially don’t start off with a defensive or hostile “What’s the problem?” or similar words. Let the officer start talking. He will probably ask to see your license and vehicle registration. Many people make the mistake of insisting the officer tell them why he stopped them before they’ll comply. Don’t make that mistake. Reply “okay” or “sure,” then hand over the documents. One of the first things traffic cops learn in the police academy is to decide, before leaving their vehicle, whether they’re going to give a ticket or just a warning. They may act as though they still haven’t made up their minds and are going to let you off only if you’ll cooperate. Don’t fall for this. The hesitating officer may be trying to appear open-minded in order to extract admissions out of you, to use them against you in court if necessary. The strategy is to try to get you to admit either that you committed a violation or that you were so careless, inattentive, or negligent that you don’t know whether you did or not. The officer might start by asking you the sort of question whose lack of a definite answer would imply guilt, like, “Do you know why I stopped you?” Or, he might ask, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Your answers, if any, should be non-committal and brief, like a simple “No” to the first question or a very confident, “Yes, I do,” to the second. If he then tells you how fast he thinks you were going or what he thinks you did, don’t argue. Give a noncommittal answer, like, “I see,” or no answer at all. Silence is not an admission of guilt and cannot be used against you in court.

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