This is one of the most commonly asked discussions related to criminal defense law. How should you handle being stopped by law enforcement? All traffic stops are different, but there are some sure-fire rules that you can follow and some general things that you should know:
Signal to Law Enforcement that you are safe to approach – Once pulled over you should immediately stop the engine, turn off the radio, take the keys out of the ignition and put them somewhere visible, open the windows and lastly make all passengers put their empty hands somewhere visible. Law enforcement will appreciate that you are concerned with sending the right message and you will reduce the chances of a nasty encounter.
Pass the Attitude Test – Everybody talks about the field sobriety test, but you MAY not even make it to that point if you pass the attitude test. In other words, ALWAYS be nice and respectful to law enforcement. This can be challenging depending on the circumstances but remember that most people are not super cordial with police officers. By being the “nice one” you differentiate yourself and THAT can be the difference between the cops writing you up or letting you go. Here’s an example:
o Officer: Do you know why I stopped you?
o You: I’m sure you had a good reason. We appreciate that you are out here keeping us safe.
Remember that Law Enforcement is trained to trip you up so make sure that you do not admit guilt, but you remain friendly:
o Officer: So, you admit I had good reason to stop you for swerving and speeding?
o You: No, but again I’m sure you had a good reason and I’m a big fan of the Sheriff’s Department out here so please know that I appreciate your concern.
Eventually, hopefully you will win the officer over with your kindness and willingness to comply. Just make sure that you remain careful with your words so that you don’t incriminate yourself in the process.
Do not make a statement – Sometimes we feel that if we make a good explanation to law enforcement that they will forgive us. While this may be true in some cases, most often it’s not the case. Usually the interview that we give turns into evidence used against us. You have NO obligation to make a statement. You may simply say the following two things (remember the attitude test in how you say this):
o I am sorry, but I am not making a statement
o I have an attorney that I would like to present for questioning.
Once you say those two magic sentences, law enforcement should stop attempting to question you. They may still arrest you, BUT you have given them nothing to put in their file to help the case against you. We would always prefer defending clients that didn’t make any statements. It gives the prosecution less evidence against you.
You don’t HAVE to take the field sobriety test – Some people feel that if they do a great job on a field sobriety test that they will be let go and they will avoid a DUI. This may be true in some cases. We feel that if you have been pulled over, pulled out of the vehicle and are asked to do a field sobriety test that a blood or breath test isn’t far behind. Use your judgment, but there will be no other legal ramification of you refusing this test. You are not legally required to take it. This is just ANOTHER opportunity for law enforcement to stuff details in your case file that paint you in a negative light. Any misstep that you make will support a DUI charge if it’s filed. You may say that you have injuries, physical limitations, etc. that will prevent you from taking a good test OR you may just say that you don’t want to take a field sobriety test. You will probably be offered a breathalyzer or blood test at that point. But, you will have given the police and DA less in your file to work with in their prosecution and that’s a win!
You MUST submit to a breath or blood test or lose your license – Some people feel that they will avoid the consequences of a DUI by refusing to submit to a blood or breath test. This MAY help in terms of prosecution by the court, but you can still be convicted of a DUI with other pieces of evidence so it’s not a sure-fire tactic. However, it is a sure-fire way to get your license suspended by the DMV for a year. As a matter of fact, in California you are required to submit to a breath or blood test or your license WILL be suspended for a year. When you submit to a test, even if you are convicted of a DUI, we can usually negotiate a provisional license so that you may drive to work, school, classes etc. The kicker is that it is LEGAL for law enforcement to take your blood by force. So, you can actually refuse, get your license suspended, and STILL be convicted of the DUI. There are ALMOST no circumstances where it’s a good idea to refuse a Blood Alcohol test.
If you have questions or want to discuss your case, call us anytime at (805) 208-1866 and we are happy to speak confidentially and at no cost. We serve Ventura County, Santa Barbara County, and Southern California.