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How to Survive a Traffic Stop

Armando Nava

Being pulled over can be a scary, tense, and stressful situation for everyone involved, as a simple traffic stop can lead to a loss of money, liberty, or even life. You never know what type of officer you will be interacting with or what kind of shift that officer had worked. Your main priority should always be to complete the stop, take the ticket, and move on or fight the ticket in court.

The Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures. What this means is that you have a constitutional right to be secure in your vehicle; free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Each state has their own set of standards when it comes to the Fourth Amendment, and Arizona is no different. Arizona’s Fourth Amendment Protection Act bans the use of illegally obtained data and evidence in state courts. During a traffic stop you are not free to go; thus, you are detained and seized until the officer tells you otherwise. One type of unreasonable seizure is when the stop lasts longer than the necessary time to carry out the goals or handle the issues of the initial stop. For example, if you are stopped for speeding and the officer has no other probable cause to detain you, they must let you go after giving the speeding ticket. They cannot wait for a K-9 unit to show up past the necessary time for the purpose of the stop.

Once the officer has indicated to you to pull over, you must do so. Immediately turn on your signal to let the officer know you are complying, and find a safe spot to pull over. If one is not immediately present, make sure to slow down and keep your blinker on as you look. Once stopped, turn your engine off and roll down your window. Remain in the driver’s seat with your seatbelt on and place both hands on the steering wheel in plain sight. If it is dark outside the vehicle, turn on the interior lights so the officer can see you and your surroundings within the vehicle. If others are with you in the vehicle, you should instruct them to remain quiet and calm. You should also advise them to comply with the officer’s orders and instructions.

When the officer approaches the vehicle, be respectful. Never make sudden or unexpected movements, especially those that suggest you are reaching for something. Once instructed, you MUST provide routine documents including driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration. You must also indicate if you are in possession of a firearm. If the officer instructs you to step out of your vehicle, you MUST comply. However, you are not required to respond to small talk because you have the right not to incriminate yourself. All statements to an officer before and after your Miranda rights can be used in a case against you. For example, where you came from, your destination, what you ate, or what you drank. These statements can be used for anything from creating probable cause for a search to impeachment uses at trial. For this reason, you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Both of these rights must be invoked and should never be waived. Keep in mind that unreasonable silence could be grounds for suspicion and probable cause.

Generally, Police officers need a warrant to search a car. However, the automobile exception allows officers to search a car that is “readily mobile” without a warrant if officers have probable cause to believe they will find contraband or a crime has been committed. If an officer asks for permission to search, this is a red flag. The officer likely does not have enough probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. You should NEVER consent to a search. Simply respond with, “No, I do not consent.” If the officer wants to search and has enough probable cause they will retrieve a search warrant.

After you receive your citation, or once it is apparent that you are not being issued one, you may ask the officer if you are free to leave. Remember, accepting a citation peacefully does not mean you agree with the citation. You have a right to contest the citation. However, do not challenge the citation with the officer at the stop. This usually will cause more harm than good. The place to contest is a courtroom.

It is important to remember that no two stops are identical. If you encounter a police officer during a traffic stop and question whether your rights have been violated, call The Nava Law Firm, PLLC to go over the facts surrounding your stop.

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