The Innocent Driver’s Guide To An Encounter With A Police Officer

The Innocent Driver’s Guide To An Encounter With A Police Officer
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you are pulled over by a traffic officer. It is dark, in the middle of the night, and you are sure you weren’t speeding. What do you do?

In the back of your mind you suddenly recall all the sob stories you heard from your Uncle Harry, you know – the one with the three DUIs. You remember his stories about being slammed to the ground and innocently put in jail overnight with murderers and pimps. Sure, you know that Uncle Harry was as guilty as sin, but in the back of your mind you are beginning to wonder if maybe there was a grain of truth to his stories. This is probably also the time when that mental movie that is playing in your head recalls the scenes from a variety of action movies that ended with planted drugs and kicked in taillights – all to extort money from the helpless victim.

And so you are sitting at the side of the road, wondering if there is something to the propagated notions that you, as an American, are no longer innocent until proven guilty, but instead presumed guilty before the law enforcement officer has even swaggered over to your car. Should you remain silent? What exactly are your rights? Did you know that you have obligations that come along with your rights? No? Yes? Read on and find out more!

  • You have the right to act like a human being.
    Yes, you read correctly. This means that you have the obligation to conduct yourself in a manner that will not lead an officer to assume that you will put him or her into physical danger. Therefore, avoid threats to the officer, do not use every expletive in the book when s/he explains to you why s/he interrupted your drive, don’t assume that s/he is out to get you, and whatever you do, don’t go reaching under your seat! Similarly, if it turns out that the three beers and six shots of Tequila have indeed impaired your driving (as any rational human being knew they would) and you find yourself getting handcuffed, don’t take a swing at the officer and then wonder why you may sustain some injuries as s/he protects her/himself and others in the process.
  • You have the right to drive your car.
    This means that you have the obligation to provide a law enforcement officer with your driver’s license, the car’s registration, and a proof of insurance. Failure to produce any of these documents does entitle the police to arrest you.
  • You have the right to consult with an attorney.
    This means that you have the obligation to inform the officer if you wish to exercise this right. Simply assuming that there will be an attorney waiting for you at headquarters is naïve. The sooner you let the officer know what you intend to do, the sooner you will have counsel by your side. If indeed you are being arrested, this is quite possibly your best course of action.
  • You have the right leave, if you are not being arrested.
    This means that you have the obligation to exercise this right once you are informed that indeed you are not being held. Additionally, this also means that you can decline submitting to an interrogation or coming down to the station to answer a few questions.
  • You have the right to privacy.
    This means that you have the obligation to very clearly express to the officer that you do not consent to any search of your car. Of course, if you have a week’s worth of empties in the backset, and your car reeks of marijuana, then your protest will probably fall on deaf ears, and the probable cause clause will overrule your right to privacy.

As you can see, with a little bit of know-how you will be able to dispel the myth that we are headed for a police state. Similarly, your behavior and your knowledge of your rights and obligations go a long way to ensure that you will indeed remain innocent until proven guilty.

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