3 tips on what to do if you are stopped by the police.
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The odds are high that you’ve run across online videos of police stops that usually go south in one way or another. They're narrated by 'anchors' who dissect the police's conduct and break down - like a sports analyst - where the cop 'crossed the line.’
A few YouTube sites (they are also all over Facebook and Instagram) critique every aspect of the stop then grade both the cop and the person they stopped on how they handled themselves.
Then there's the popular videos posted by 'Constitutional Law Auditors’. These people purposely put themselves in position to come into conflict with law enforcement, usually to make a point about a first amendment issue. They’ll film in front of a prison or police station or near a DUI checkpoint in hope of a confrontation.
Auditors are, in theory, ‘testing' whether the cop or prison guard or border patrol agent that responds to their presence "knows the law."
These start out tense and get worse.
They are very confrontational. Eight times out of ten they end with the auditor in cuffs, even if it's only for a few minutes, and the cop undergoing some kind of discipline.
The punchline here is that way too often the auditor and the law enforcement officer are both wrong. The auditor has too wide an interpretation of Constitutional Law and the officer has too limited an understanding.
At least half the time the auditor comes across as a smug know-it-all and the cop as a simmering volcano ready to blow.
Some of the stop videos are recorded during real stops either by iPhone, dashcam, or bodycam. The auditor calls almost occur in 'safe' areas – on city or state property, and usually recorded by iPhone and a camera crew a dozen yards away. The stakes - if there are any to begin with – are low.
Yet, they're all still seat-squirmingly hand to watch.
So, let's add a busy highway, or a dark rural street at 2 am and you're stopped for a traffic violation of some kind to the equation. The stakes are higher and real. You’re unhappy about being pulled over, especially if you don’t know why. The cop is unhappy to have to get out of their car with traffic whizzing by or to stumble on a pitch-black road with no shoulder.
Now is not the time to be a Constitutional scholar. Hand your license and registration over – you have no choice despite what on-line videos have to say about that. You do not need to answer questions. You do need to obey an order. You do not need to respond to a request – but you can ask if it’s an order. You do not have to allow your car to be searched.
That’s it. Your only job is to be calm and polite. It is not to debate the finer points of the fourth and fifth amendments. They matter in court, not at the side of the road.
Just to be clear, there is no winning a traffic stop. The best you can hope for is a draw – a ‘hey, I’m letting you off with a warning, have a good day.’
Invoke, quietly, your rights, be pleasant, then call us.