How to Stay Safe When Getting Pulled Over
Many women – and men – have expressed concern about being pulled overby a police car at night in a location where there is no one else around and the safety concerns this type of situation holds, especially in light of the rash of police-impersonator crimes that were committed in 2004, which many of you may remember, and in light of the recent police beating that happened here in Minneapolis last month.
There is a good article written by Allison Ford that was published online last month, entitled, “Imposter! How to Spot a Fake Cop”, that talked about some simple ways people can use common sense to avoid being victims of police-impersonators, or utility-worker impersonators. There was also an article on www.driving-while-intoxicated.com, a national website that discussed 16 things folks should remember when being pulled over by police in order to not run a-fowl of the law.
I’ve combined these sets of information and tailored them to be in compliance with Minnesota law, to provide you with the following checklist of How to Stay Safe When Getting Pulled Over.
Step 1: You saw the flashing lights, and just figured out they’re for YOU.
First, put on your hazards and SLOW DOWN. This will indicate to the police that you acknowledge them and are going to pull over at the first opportunity. If you’re on the freeway it’s best to stop as soon as possible, but if you are clearly unable to do so safely, then take the next exit up to a gas station, or a rest area. If you’re on a side or city street, find a place that is well lit with other people around. If you can’t find someplace with other people around, make sure the officer is recording the stop on the squad car’s video system.
Second, when the officer approaches, STAY IN YOUR CAR, windows rolled up, doors locked, and CHECK for proper identification. A real police officer will have his or her badge, badge number, name, jurisdiction (like the city name, or “State Trooper”) on his or her uniform for easy viewing. Real officers also wear radios and utility belts – in short, their uniforms are complicated, and their authenticity is in those details.
Third, sometimes plain clothed officers pull folks over in unmarked cars. If this looks like the case, ask the officer to show his or her badge for identification and, if you still aren’t sure, tell them you’re going to call 911 to verify that an unmarked car has made a stop in your area. Police dispatchers know where their officers are and can easily conform an officer’s identity for you.
Step 2: The officer is really a cop, and you are REALLY being pulled over.
Stay in your car. Officers want to be able to see you, and to know where you and your hands are. Think through where your driver’s license and your “registration” – which is your car insurance card – are, so that when the officer asks for them, you can go right to them. The only time you should get out of your car is if/when the officer asks you to get out of it.
“Taking the fifth” has become a TV sitcom punch line, but in the legal world, it is a real and important constitutional right. You have the right to not answer the officer’s questions, and to not volunteer information. This includes answering, “I don’t know,” when asked if you know why you are being pulled over, and not answering when asked if you have been drinking. That said, you should identify yourself to the officer if/when he or she asks, by giving your name, your date of birth and your current address – as this information is already on your driver’s license and registration. Remember, also, that giving an officer false information about anything is a crime in and of itself.
Step 3: To Arrest or Not to Arrest
An officer needs probable cause to arrest you for a crime. Not answering questions about how much you’ve had to drink can be used as probable cause, but telling an officer that you’ve had 7 beers can be used as evidence to convict you of DUI, so don’t be surprised if you are arrested. Stay calm. The important thing to remember at this stage of the stop is to ask the officer if his squad camera is on and recording the stop. This way, if the officer doesn’t follow protocol, but not reading you your Miranda Warning, or by deviating in any way, there will be clear proof on video to support your version of the story later.
Step 4: “Who You Gonna Call?”
The “Ghostbusters” can’t help you – but a lawyer can. It’s a good idea to have the phone number of a Minnesota DUI lawyer in your wallet, purse or cell phone BEFORE you need to make that call. It’s no fun to have to thumb through a phone book in the jail looking for the number of someone you aren’t sure will answer the phone and whom you’ve never talked to before at a time when you need good advice. If you’ve been arrested, call respected Minnesota Criminal Attorney Douglas T. Kans at (952) 835-6314.