Your actions during a police stop can influence not only the direction that the stop takes but also any ensuing interactions with law enforcement. Thus, even though you may feel frightened and confused, you should make sure to act as normally and politely as possible. For example, you should pull over to the right as soon as it is safe. Pulling over does not mean that you are admitting that you did anything wrong. It simply means that you are obeying the law and taking prudent steps to get your interaction with the officer off to the right start. Promptly pulling over also cuts short the period in which you were committing an alleged violation, which can make your case easier to defend.
Remember that an officer rarely knows what to expect as they approach a vehicle. The driver inside could be a completely innocent citizen or a criminal with a firearm. To put the officer at ease, you should roll down your window completely and keep your hands visible on the steering wheel. If you are stopped at night, you may want to turn on the light in your vehicle so that the officer can see that nothing dangerous is inside. You should stay in the car unless and until the officer tells you to leave it. Try to avoid reaching for anything in the car or on your person unless you are responding to a request by the officer.
Interactions with the Officer
How you handle yourself during a stop can affect how the officer treats you. A driver should be polite and respectful, answering the officer’s questions without arguing with them or volunteering superfluous information. The officer may ask you to provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance. You should do this calmly without making sudden movements. If you turn the interaction into a confrontation, an officer who was planning to give you a warning may decide to give you a ticket or search the vehicle.
You do have a right to remain silent in these situations, although you may need to vocally and explicitly exercise this right. Sometimes an officer may imply that you may get away with a warning if you give them information or admit that you committed a violation, but this may just be a tactic to induce you to cooperate.
Searches During Police Stops
The general rule, which is based on the U.S. Constitution, is that a police officer cannot search your vehicle if the basis of the stop is a simple traffic violation. However, the officer is free to observe your car and its interior as an ordinary person would. If you have something incriminating in plain view, such as an illegal firearm or a package of controlled substances, the officer may notice it. They would have the right to conduct a comprehensive search of the vehicle on this basis, which might result in collecting more evidence. If you do something suspicious, moreover, the officer may have a basis to conduct a search. For example, perhaps a driver appears to be rapidly trying to hide something as the officer approaches the vehicle. Or perhaps the driver is arranging their body in an unnatural position to conceal something.
Even if an officer is not stopping a driver for anything other than a traffic violation, they can ask the driver and anyone else in the vehicle to step outside. You should follow their instructions, although you should stay in the vehicle and assume that you do not need to get out unless the officer says so. If the officer has a reason to believe that you may pose a threat, they can conduct a brief pat down and seize any weapons or contraband that they find during this search. In addition, an officer who reasonably believes that a driver may have access to weapons can search the passenger compartment for areas that might contain a weapon.
If you are arrested, the police have a right to make an inventory search of your vehicle after towing it away. This does not require a reasonable suspicion of a crime but can result in finding evidence that leads to charges.