The Insider's Guide to Speed Enforcement Pt. 4: The Traffic Stop Stops Here
If there’s anything that makes you swear faster than passing a cop aiming a radar/laser gun at your car, it’s seeing a cop car looming in your rear view mirror. Either way, you’re busted. You’re about to play your part in a carefully scripted interchange with tax-funded law enforcement. How you play your role will have a big impact on what happens next.
First and foremost, don’t act coy. If the blue lights are flashing on your behalf, put on your hazard lights immediately and pull over. You can turn a simple traffic violation into a misdemeanor easily by missing this one. Remember that the officer has one thought as he yanks your chain: he doesn’t want to get hurt. So pull over somewhere safe, preferably off the main road, but always into a well-lit, open space.
When Officer Krupke pulls you over, he doesn’t know if you’re an honest citizen with a heavy foot or a third strike felon with a weapon. So do not reach into your glove box or your coat pocket for your license and registration before the policeman approaches. Lower your window, put both hands on the steering wheel, relax your shoulders and wait.
In most cases, the officer will call in your plate and his location before he leaves the car. He’ll watch you and your passengers (repeatedly) for “furtive movements.” The cop will approach you over your left shoulder. It’s tactical: he/she can see almost everything you do and can respond quickly if you're stupid/drugged enough to “try something." By the same psychological token, the bright lights are supposed to scare you and illuminate the inside of your car.
When the cop approaches, let him speak first. Most times, he’ll ask for your license and registration. Sometimes, he’ll ask you a direct question, to determine your state of mind and whether or not you’re drunk or drugged. If the officer asks you a simple question (“Do you know how fast you were going?”), provide him or her with a simple answer (“No, I’m sorry, I don’t”). Keep your voice level and your tone respectful.
After the initial interchange, you can proffer an excuse, if you so choose. Don't schmooze; friendliness counts for nothing here. All the cop wants is his safety and your respect. So be direct, courteous and passive. Make your excuse simple (e.g. “I’m late to pick-up my kid from school”) and always start with an apology. Yes, an apology. But do not admit guilt. Just “I’m sorry.” Not, “I’m sorry I was speeding.” It’s a fine line. Don’t cross it.
Many times, perhaps even most times, the officer simply doesn’t want to hear your story. In some cases, the cop might even walk off while you’re in mid-sentence. Don’t lose your cool. These guys have heard it all before. They may have other things they want to do besides listen to you lie, prevaricate or explain your criminal behavior.
Once the officer gets your papers, the officer will usually go back to the safety of his car (roadsides are dangerous for all) and run your specifics. He will check out your car from time to time, looking for those “furtive movements.” After the policeman establishes that your license and registration are valid, and that you and your vehicle aren’t wanted for any reason, he or she will cite you for your offense(s).
If you were polite, sometimes there will be a small “roadside reduction” or even a warning instead of a ticket. If you were rude, there will be no mercy. If you were very rude, then there may be several citations. I can often tell by the set of tickets presented how my client acted towards the police officer on the roadside. In States like Virginia, where a ticket (and various inventive surcharges) can be mortgage money expensive, you’ll want any “discretion” the cop has used in your favor.
When the officer gives you the ticket (s), he or she will briefly engage you in conversation. If the officer gives you a lecture, or asks you a series of questions intended to rub your nose in your offense, just grin and bear it. Under no circumstances should you ever argue with the police. If the ticket’s written, the deal’s gone down. If you’ve been hard done by, you’ll get your day in court (and do NOT use that as a threat of any kind).
For most normal traffic stops, the police officer has made notes on the back of the ticket as to the particulars of the stop, and your attitude. He will have forgotten about you (usually) as soon as he’s back on the pavement at patrol speeds. Which leads us to the next part of our story… the Courthouse.
You are, of course, pleading Not Guilty.
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