One of the most common questions asked of criminal defense attorneys is “what should I do if I am pulled over?”

If an officer turns on his or her emergency lights behind you, safely pull over to the side of the road and place your hands on the steering wheel. Wait for the officer to approach your vehicle. Do not step out of the vehicle unless requested by the officer.

The officer may ask if you know why you were pulled over. Always say “no.” Never admit to any traffic violation. Keep your statements brief, and don’t offer more information than necessary.

When asked by the officer, produce your license, registration and proof of insurance. Alert the officer of their location and that you will be reaching for them. Once the officer receives the documents, he or she will return to the police vehicle to ensure you do not have any active warrants.

What if you are suspected of intoxication?

If the officer suspects that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he or she may ask you to step out of the vehicle, and you must comply.  Once out of the vehicle, you may be asked to complete some field sobriety tests or to submit to a breath or blood test to determine if drugs or alcohol are present in your system.

You have the option to refuse all tests. If you refuse, you will most likely be arrested under the suspicion of driving under the influence, but you will keep the state from obtaining any further evidence of your intoxication. Refusal of a breath or blood test will result in an immediate suspension of your license until your case has reached a final resolution.

If the officer asks to search your vehicle, you can refuse the request; however, if the officer had a legitimate reason for the stop AND probable cause to believe that contraband or evidence of a crime is in the vehicle, he or she may proceed with the search.  For instance, an officer could search your car if you are pulled over for speeding and the officer noticed that your car smells heavily of marijuana.

What if the officer did not have cause to search the car?

If an officer stops you without a valid reason and then searches your vehicle and finds contraband, the prosecutor cannot use that contraband as evidence against you. Similarly, if an officer searches your car without consent, you may be able to prevent all evidence resulting from the search from being used against you in court. Warrantless searches are automatically presumed to be unreasonable. The prosecutor has the burden to prove that the officer reasonably believed that contraband or evidence of a crime was present in the vehicle; otherwise, the search and all fruits of the search are not admissible.

If you are being placed under arrest, the officer is required to read you your Miranda rights.  He or she is not required to give your Miranda rights to search your car unless he or she has already decided to place you under arrest. If the officer fails to read your Miranda rights to you, your statements and actions may not be admissible as evidence against you. If you voluntarily offer incriminating statements after hearing your Miranda rights, they can and will be used against you.

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