DOs and DON’Ts of traffic stops

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

I dont know why, but over the past several months, I have hit a bunch of DUI checkpoints in my travels around the greater DC metropolitan area. Mainly, these have been exercises in making sure I slow my car down sufficiently and willingly accept the literature offered to me by the law enforcement community.

Yes, traffic is slowed down. Yes, Ive had to get off of the phone before I roll up on one of these checkpoints. And, yes, I have several brochures lying around my car as a result. But I do feel as though these checkpoints are worth it. Having been in an accident with a drunk driver before (and reminded of it every time the weather changes), I am more than supportive of the police and state troopers to enforce the drunk driving laws.

However, it appears to me that some people just dont know how to handle a garden-variety traffic stop, be it for speeding, a DUI, or any other traffic offenses. A few high profile people have been snagged lately, and what they say in their defense, or to the arresting officer, is always the same. Do you know who I am? I am going to sue your (butt) off! Ill have your job for this! and my personal favorite, Youre making a terrible mistake.

If you are pulled over, do not utter any of these lines. Do not get out of the car. Be polite. Be respectful. Take the ticket and say, Thank You. If the officer was in error, you will have your day in court to deal with it. Or, you can at least delay things in the hopes the arresting officer cant make it to court that day. No need to blow your chances at a reasonably successful trial with your belligerent behavior. Judges will likely take more interest in your case if you provide your side of the facts in a civil manner, and, they may be a bit gentler when the arresting officer doesnt testify that you had a complete temper tantrum meltdown.

However, what you shouldnt do, under any circumstances, is allow the police to inspect your car. If they ask and you say yes, you basically waive all of your Fourth Amendment rights against unconstitutional search and seizure. If the cops see a gun, they can search your car without asking you. If the cops smell an interesting odor coming from your car that cant be classified as cigarette smoke or air freshener (or perhaps too much air freshener, if you know what I mean), they can search your car without asking you. If they see drugs, or evidence of drug paraphernalia, they can search your car without asking you.

But if they see none of these things, they can ask to search your car, and you do not have to allow them. Tell them to get a warrant. Because if you do allow them to search your car, they can search anything in your car. Boxes, cans, purses, compartments, anything. Because youve allowed them in the door, they can search all of the rooms. And, quite often, they can find something. Once they find something, you may wish for the day that a speeding ticket was the worst thing that has ever happened to you.

So those are the basics be polite and respectful and take whats coming to you. If you feel this was in error, have your day in court. And dont under any circumstances allow a search of your car. If you have nothing to hide, thats fantastic, but how many people have you seen on Cops that think they have nothing to hide, and then things are found in their car. Or a box, or a container, or a purse that doesnt belong to them, but is in their car. They then go to jail. Not pleasant.

Now, if we can only find a way to defeat the speed cameras. That would be something, wouldnt it?

Chris Markham writes a weekly column for

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