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What To Do If You Are Stopped By Police

Posted by Alex K. Kriksciun | Feb 02, 2018 | 0 Comments

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I'd like to offer a slightly more “real-world” tilt to this post and to discuss my opinions as to what you should (and should not) do if stopped by the police.  After all, you don't want to end up like the guy above, right?

There's a ton more I could say about this - but I did want to share these initial thoughts.

On The Street

I am assuming that it will be fairly unlikely that somebody reading this would actually be stopped on the street, unless of course, you are stopped for doing something stupid during Mardi Gras.  Nonetheless, I think it is important to point out that a police officer is generally justified in stopping a person and conducting a patdown if he or she believed that there was a “reasonable suspicion” to stop

I don't give two shits how innocent you are - it's always a mistake to physically resist the police.  However, if an officer is patting you down, you can certainly let the officer know that you do not consent to any further search or seizure.  Law enforcement cannot search or seize you merely because you refused to consent to that search. 

Furthermore, if a law enforcement officer approaches you in the street and wants to ask you questions, you are justified in refusing to answer and walking away unless the officer has probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed.  It is not a crime to refuse to answer a police officer's questions, and I would generally recommend that such a person not do so. 

In Louisiana, if a police officer requests your name and/or identification, it is also considered resisting arrest to give a false name or to fail to provide identification if in possession of it.  My understanding is that this is not true in all states, but I can assure you that it is the case here.  I always tell people that it is advisable to ask the officer questions, the most important of which is, “am I under arrest?”  If you are under arrest, you have a right to know and the officer should inform you of your Miranda rights.

In Your Car

If a police officer observes what he or she reasonably believes to be a traffic offense, the officer has the right to pull the vehicle and its occupants over.  It should go without saying that under no circumstances is it smart to try and outrun the police.  Please don't try it.

You should pull over to the first available spot that is safe for both yourself and the officer.  The officer will invariably ask for your license, registration, and (in Louisiana at least) your proof of insurance.  If you have these documents, turn them over immediately.  If not, tell the officer that you do not and why you do not.  Be honest.  For example, if your license is suspended, you mind as well tell the officer because they're gonna find out anyways.  Note that if you do not have proof of insurance in your vehicle, many officers will allow you to contact your insurer to obtain said proof.

It is of critical importance that you not make any sudden movements and that you not try to reach for anything without either informing the officer or being asked to reach for something.  Now, I think everybody knows I tend to view law enforcement with a very healthy dose of suspicion.  But if I were a cop, and a person made a quick movement to reach for something after I pulled them over, I'd be pretty damn scared myself.  Put yourself in their shoes for a second.

In many cases, the officer will ask to search your car.  I ALWAYS advise against this.  If you give consent to search, the officer can search your entire car.  If you do not give consent, and the officer still wants to search your car, he or she would have to get a search warrant.  I am of the belief that under most circumstances, police will balk having to get a warrant to search a vehicle after being refuse consent.  I've seen it happen personally on several occasions.

It never hurts to be apologetic to the officer if you can.  He or she may cut you a break.  Most of this time this doesn't happen – and you may be left in a situation where you feel it necessary to explain to the officer your side of the story.  If that occurs, PLEASE resist the temptation!  Those words could be used against you later in court.

In a nutshell, be polite but firm.  Don't do the officers' job for them.  And if you do not want to answer any questions, don't answer any questions.

The Two Most Important Things to Remember:

  1. ALWAYS let law enforcement know that you want to speak to a lawyer IMMEDIATELY.  If you live in New Orleans, give me a call at 504.226.6200.

  2. Whatever you do, please don't laugh if an officer says “meow.”

Of course, I must point out that this message does not constitute legal advice and is for informational purposes only. This message does not establish an attorney-client relationship, which can only be established once a retainer agreement has been fully executed between yourself and myself.

About the Author

Alex K. Kriksciun

Attorney at Law/Notary Public Alex K. Kriksciun has devoted most of his legal career to defending the rights of people accused of crimes and the rights of people harmed by the negligence of others.  Whether the case involves a municipal citation, a life imprisonment without parole case, a wrongf...

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