Probably most motorists in the state of California have been – or will be – pulled over by a law enforcement officer at some point while driving. Most traffic stops are made for minor reasons, and most of these stops end with a warning instead of a ticket or an arrest. However, what can begin as a routine stop may quickly become a serious situation if a law enforcement officer believes that a motorist has committed or is committing a crime other than a traffic violation.
If you are stopped by law enforcement officers who suspect you of committing a crime in Southern California, it is absolutely imperative to know your legal rights. If a traffic stop leads to an arrest, it’s important to speak promptly with an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney. Listed here are some of the leading reasons why you might attract the attention of the police in traffic:
- Your license plate is expired or is improperly affixed to the vehicle.
- A headlight, turn signal, tail light, or brake light is not working.
- You tossed out a candy or gum wrapper, a cup or a food wrapper, or a cigarette butt.
- Your windshield is obstructed, or something is hanging from your rearview mirror.
- Speeding and/or reckless driving will almost always get you pulled over by the police.
WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS AT A TRAFFIC STOP?
For many people, traffic stops by the police can be stressful or even frightening. And sometimes at traffic stops, people are not treated fairly or even legally by the police. At a traffic stop, you have the right to remain silent, and you have the right to have an attorney present during any interrogation. When an officer signals for you to stop, safely pull over to the right side of the road – off the road – and entirely away from any traffic. If you drive in Southern California, know your rights, so that you can use them when you need to. If you are stopped by the police:
- Keep your hands in plain view on top of the steering wheel. Wait until you are asked to produce your license, registration, and proof of insurance.
- As soon as it seems appropriate, ask the officer if you are free to go.
- If you are not free to go, politely ask, “For what reason are you detaining me?”
- Exercise your right to remain silent and politely say, “I choose to exercise my right to remain silent.” You cannot be arrested or detained for exercising your right to remain silent.
- Do not consent to a search. The police may conduct a search anyway, but it is important to state clearly, “I do not consent to a search.”
- If you are receiving a ticket, cooperate. Give the officer your name and date of birth, and sign the ticket. Your failure to cooperate regarding a ticket could get you arrested.
- Do not express disrespect or “attitude.”
- Do not try to run. Do not physically resist a “pat-down” or body search. Simply say “I do not consent to a search,” but otherwise be cooperative.
- Do not tell lies to the police. Instead, simply and politely exercise your right to remain silent.
- Be aware that police officers are legally allowed to lie to and to attempt to intimidate you.
- If you are arrested, ask the officer if you can park your car safely or have a friend drive it away. Otherwise, you will pay impound and towing fees.
WHAT IF THE POLICE WANT TO TEST YOU FOR DUI?
If the police want to test you for driving under the influence (DUI), submit to the test. California law does not require you to submit to a DUI test until you are formally taken into custody (unless you are under 21 or currently on probation for DUI), but in practice, your refusal to submit to DUI testing will give a police officer a reason to arrest you. Submit to the test, and your attorney can dispute the results later. In California, the refusal to submit to a DUI test after a formal arrest will lead to a one-year driver’s license suspension.
You can be searched on the spot, legally and without a warrant, if law enforcement officers believe that you are carrying a weapon. The courts have decided these body searches are legal because officers have a right to protect their own lives. If illegal drugs, weapons, or stolen cash or property are found by the police during a body search, that evidence can be used against you in a court of law. If the police have probable cause to believe that there’s evidence of a crime in your vehicle, any search they conduct will be legal, and any evidence the discover can be used against you. If the police impound your vehicle, they may search it legally without a warrant.
WHAT ARE SOME TIPS FOR AVOIDING TROUBLE?
It should go without saying that you should never attempt to bribe a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop. Do not try to “lighten things up,” either – the police will not appreciate your humor. Keeping your car relatively clean is also a good idea, because criminals sometimes hide guns or drugs under a pile of empty cups and take-out food wrappers. Do not allow anything on your windshield that might block your vision, and do not hang anything from your rearview mirror, either, because in most states that gives the police a legitimate reason to pull you over. Do not have loud music coming from your vehicle when an officer approaches it, either.
When the flashing lights of a police car come on behind you, or when a law enforcement officer pulls alongside you and waves for you to stop, that officer does not know who you are. Police officers have been killed while conducting routine traffic stops, so be as friendly and cooperative as you can be. The officer that seems rude may simply be focused on exercising caution. Your cooperation can put an officer at ease, and many officers will appreciate it. In Southern California, those who want to learn more about their legal rights and those who have been charged with a crime as the result of a traffic stop will need to speak with an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney.