We're frequently asked about traffic stops. Can I refuse to answer every question? What do I say if I'm pulled over after a drink or two but I'm not under the influence? Don't I have a better chance of being let go if I'm really honest? These are all great questions. The problem is that most of the answers people have in mind to these questions are wrong. So let's clear up some confusion on what to say and not say during traffic stops.
Here are some dos and don'ts. Some people may find these controversial, but we've prepare these based on years of experience handling traffic stop cases.
- Be polite and courteous
- There is a fine line between being direct and polite and just being plain rude. Being polite will only help you.
Ask why you were pulled over
- Asking this helps establish the purpose of the stop and prevents you from over sharing.
- Provide your license, registration, and proof of insurance
- They have a right to check these if you've been stopped in your car.
If they ask to search your car, decline
- Police can search your car in several instances, such as, if they have a warrant, probable cause, or if you've been arrested. But it's always best to let them know that they don't have your permission to search it, just in case their search is unconstitutional. Even if their request to search isn't really a request (such as, "I'm gonna go ahead and search your car if you don't mind."), tell them they don't have your permission.
Ask if you're free to leave or if you're being detained
- There are rules on when and for how long police can hold you. If you haven't been arrested, either you are free to leave or you're being detained. It's as simple as that. Make them establish what's going on.
If you're not free to leave or you're being detained, stop answering questions and invoke the Fifth Amendment
- Simply saying, “I plead the Fifth,” can sometimes sound combative and be a trigger for police. Instead, say something like this: “Officer, I know you're just doing your job but I don't feel comfortable answering any questions without an attorney present.” Repeat this sentence if you need to. If they keep asking questions, then feel free to be more direct and say you're invoking the Fifth at that time.
- Comply with taking the breathalyzer test
- If you refuse the breathalyzer, they'll probably just get a warrant to test your blood anyway. Then you'll get additional penalties for refusing the test on top of a DUI charge.
- Don't be rude or combative
- If you're rude to law enforcement, the stop probably isn't going to end well. Being rude is really only a disservice to yourself.
Don't over share
- If you're asked interrogating questions, politely tell them that you're not discussing your day with them. The questions might be as simple as where you're headed to/from, whether you've been drinking, how many drinks you've had, etc. Don't answer these questions. Telling police that you've only had one beer downtown with some buddies does not help you. It hurts you. Their job is to cite you for a crime and disclosing information makes their job easier.
Don't provide a false name or address
- This really serves no purpose. They'll eventually figure out that the error and you'll be charged with an additional crime.
- Don't talk once you've invoked the Fifth Amendment
- Invoking the Fifth and then answering questions will revoke the Fifth. So if you invoke it, just stay quiet.
Don't feel pressure to perform the field sobriety tests if you've had anything to drink
- These are the physical tests you must either perform or refuse to perform before police can give you a breathalyzer. You probably won't be told that these are optional, but they are. If you've had something to drink, you'll likely fail at least one of these tests; they are designed to make you fail. So if you've had something to drink, our advice is to refuse these tests and go straight to the breathalyzer. The less evidence they have suggesting that you're under the influence, the better.