What NOT to Do When Stopped by the Police: Advice from a Criminal Defense Attorney and Former Police Officer

by John Cashman

This article is primarily intended for younger males. Like it or not, and regardless of whether it’s fair, these are the drivers that primarily catch the attention of police officers. Your chance of being stopped is already elevated, so please don’t make the job of the officer unreasonably simple, or make the job of your defense attorney more difficult than necessary.

  1. Check the equipment on your vehicle before hitting the road, especially if you will be driving late at night. Generally, there are fewer cars on the road per officer at night, so you are begging to be stopped if you also have a headlight, taillight, license plate light, etc., that is not in compliance with the law. This just makes it too easy for the officer to stop you. He sees it as an easy opportunity to look in your car to see if anything more interesting might be going on.
  2. Don’t immediately begin complaining to the officer that you were only stopped because you are white/black/Asian/Hispanic/etc. This will only serve to ensure the officer cites you for all violations he observes to cover himself should you file a complaint. It is also just a bad idea to start the conversation by challenging an officer’s authority. The bottom line is that the officer has a tremendous amount of discretion and you don’t appear to be worthy of leniency when you start off by challenging him.
  3. Don’t ever give the officer permission to search your person or vehicle. If you say “yes,” you are putting your head on the chopping block and hoping it doesn’t get cut off. You are always better off saying “no” in this situation. The officer may still conduct a search, but if he finds anything he will have to document a legally sufficient reason for searching without your consent. This is the first thing your defense attorney will look at in hopes of arguing the search was illegal.

If all of my clients lived by these simple rules it would make the job of their defense attorney much easier.

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