Have you ever been driving along, minding your own business, when you suddenly hear a police officer’s siren and see their flashing lights in your rear-view mirror? I bet that you have. It’s not uncommon to have incurred some minor traffic violations while you are out and about conducting your normal activities. You don’t notice a school zone pop up and continue driving 35 or 40 miles per hour when the school zone demands you drive 20 miles per hour. You didn’t signal or you did but didn’t leave much room between your vehicle and the other car into whose lane you were changing. Next thing you know the police officer is behind you.
Or, you may have run into a situation where you were pulled over by law enforcement and you have no clue why this has happened. You weren’t speeding, and you haven’t changed lanes suddenly, drifted out of your lane, or done anything else to rouse the suspicion or attention of law enforcement. You were minding your own business coming home from work, going to pick up the kids, or doing anything else that we attend to in our everyday lives. Next thing you know- the police are on your rear bumper, and you pull over to the side of the road. You roll your eyes, shake your head at the thought of having to take defensive driving, and roll down your window.
Law enforcement officers pull people over, in many cases, to collect information. While it’s true that the officer may have seen you break the law or may have thought that he saw you break the law, that may not be the only reason why you have been pulled over. The reason why the officer has pulled you over may be unrelated to speeding or running a red light or whatever relatively minor infraction you may be guilty of. Or, you may have not done anything illegal, and the police officer is still trying to collect information about you and what you are up to. That much you have no control over.
What you do have control over, however, is how you react to getting pulled over and how you handle that next step. When you are being signaled by law enforcement to pull over it is best that you do so. While you may have done nothing wrong, ignoring the request of law enforcement to pull over is breaking the law. So, as soon as it is safe to do so you should pull over your vehicle, put the car into park and turn off the engine. Roll down your window and get out your driver’s license and registration. You can put them on the dashboard in front of you and then place your hands on the steering wheel. This is safe practice no matter what you are doing or where you are going.
When the officer approaches your vehicle and begins his questioning of you it is important to remember that just because you are on the side of the road, near your neighborhood, and wearing cargo shorts you should treat the situation just the same as if you were in court with a judge looking down at you. What you say in your vehicle to the police officer can and will be used against you in a court of law. You’ve heard this a million times on television and in movies. You know that it is not smart to just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. However, in the moment you may almost feel compelled to give some answer. It’s human nature to a certain extent. However, you need to fight that nature and be calm.
You are under no obligation to tell the police officer anything. You should be polite. You should not try and start any kind of argument or try to provoke the officer. You can make eye contact, smile, be pleasant and tell the truth if you want to share additional information. However, you do not need to confess to stealing a candy bar when you were 11 from the store or something like that. The question that you will be asked is one that millions of Americans have been asked over time.
That question, of course, is: do you know why I’ve pulled you over? This is a loaded question if I’ve ever heard one. It allows you to go deep into your past and dig out possible crimes and infractions that you may have committed. Most people wouldn’t admit to having committed a crime but for a simple question, the officer could be rewarded with you admitting to something completely off the wall that he otherwise would never have known had you not admitted to it. Remember when your mom told you for the first time: if you don’t ask, the answer is always no? Well, that theory applies here to the law enforcement officer. He asked, you answered. He didn’t force you to answer anything.
From a criminal law attorney’s perspective, what should do you in a situation where you are pulled over and the officer subsequently asks if you know why he has pulled you over? Smile and say nothing. You have nothing to gain from answering this question and quite a bit to lose. The information can and will be used against you in a court of law if you answer the question in a way that leads the police officer to believe that you have committed a crime more serious than running a red light or going five over the posted speed limit.
Admissions while being pulled over
Telling the police officer that you ran a red light and that is the reason why you were pulled over is admitting to committing a crime. You may not think of running a red light or speeding as a crime, but it is. There is a law on the books that says you must drive the posted speed limit. If you went over the speed limit and were caught doing so, then admitted to doing so that is about all the information that is needed to find you guilty of having broken the law. You have some options. You can admit to having broken the law. This is known as an admission. An admission is an admissible evidence as an exception to the laws against hearsay. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement used in court to prove the truth of the matter asserted.
In a courtroom, hypothetically, if you contest the ticket for speeding the matter being asserted would simply be that you have broken the law by driving your vehicle above the posted speed limit. Your out-of-court admission that you acknowledge having speeded is admissible evidence. This exception is known as a party admission. Other types of out-of-court statements are not admissible. Choose your words wisely. Again- you are under no obligation to admit to breaking the law. The officer can follow up with: I saw you speeding and clocked you going 48 miles an hour in 35 miles per hour zone. To that you can simply say nothing or be noncommittal. You may have been sure that you were not speeding- admit to nothing and be noncommittal. This is not lying, and you are not obstructing the investigation.
The safest answer to give in this situation is that you do not know why you were pulled over. Admitting to a crime makes the officer’s job a lot easier and makes it very difficult for you to contest that ticket in court. Don’t give the officer any more advantages than he already has. Make him and the county or district attorney do their job and prove that you are guilty. Remember- you are innocent until proven guilty. The officer may have tracked you going above the speed limit. He may have a camera that shows that you were drifting in between lanes. Whatever the detail is make him and the lawyer turn that evidence into something that is admissible in the record of a court case. Don’t make their job easier than it must be. Make them earn their pay, in other words.
Contact an attorney if you believe that you did nothing wrong
Many of us would simply decide to take defensive driving or pay the ticket even if we did not believe that we did anything illegal. On the other hand, you may be one of the people who were accused of doing something that you did not do and instead want to hire an attorney to represent you in court. That is where the attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan come in. Our licensed criminal law attorneys would be honored to speak to you about your situation and provide you with information about what to expect in court if you decide to move forward with your case.
A consultation with one of our experienced criminal law attorneys is only a phone call away. You can also schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys via our website. These are free consultations meaning that you do not pay anything to sit down with our attorney for thirty minutes to ask questions and provide information. Our attorney will give you information that can be helpful to whatever situation you are going in. If you want to move forward and hire our office to represent you in a court hearing then we can discuss those options with you, as well.
A criminal law attorney from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is aggressive, mindful of your circumstances, and above all else has a passion for righting wrongs and making sure that you have the best experience possible in court. Depending upon the charges against you it may be necessary to negotiate with a district or county attorney. We will do so not to admit your guilt but rather as a response to the charges themselves and the likelihood that you are found guilty of an enhanced crime.
Above all else, we pride ourselves on being able to help provide you with information, guidance, and assistance in what may be an unfamiliar situation. Nobody wants to be in a situation where you are pending criminal charges. You can take the situation for what it is and then prepare to move towards a hearing or trial with confidence if you are represented by an experienced criminal law attorney. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan has the experience and fortitude that you need in your criminal defense attorney. The only thing that you need is to reach out to us for a consultation.
Tips for minimizing your chances of being pulled over
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Avoiding getting pulled over in the first place is better than trying to figure out how to handle an interaction with law enforcement or a courtroom encounter. If you are asked to exit your vehicle, close the door behind you and tell the officer that you do not consent to a search of the vehicle. The officer cannot search your vehicle without a warrant except in very limited circumstances- usually involving an emergency where evidence could be lost if a moment is lost, Otherwise, there are few justifications for searching a vehicle without a warrant.
Window tint is a good thing. It can keep your vehicle cooler during the warm months and provides you with a basic level of security and privacy. However, there is a noticeable trend for people to tint their windows to such an extent that it becomes impossible to see inside. This could be by design on the part of the driver but from the perspective of law enforcement, it becomes an issue. There are kinds of tints, in terms of darkness, that are not allowed under Texas law. Do not tint your vehicle’s windows too dark and you are less likely to be pulled over for having broken the law. A law enforcement officer needs to be able to see in the back of your vehicle for his safety when pulling you over. If he cannot do so through the back windows, then this will increase your chances of being pulled over.
Are your lights working correctly? Directionals, brake lights, taillights, and headlights? Are they cracked or otherwise flickering? These are important questions to ask yourself as you head out onto the roads. Are these major infractions? No, but they are enough to warrant getting pulled over by law enforcement. Once that happens, strange things can happen. As we talked about earlier, is it best to just not put yourself in a situation where law enforcement can find you vulnerable. Your saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. A friend leaving something suspicious in your backseat that you didn’t know about. The list goes on and on. Do not put yourself in that spot due to a taillight that needs to be changed out.
The lights are a big one but so is having anything about your vehicle that is distracting or draws attention to you. Lights underneath the vehicle, a loud exhaust system, etc. What you think sounds good or looks good may be true to some extent. But if you are concerned with law enforcement being drawn to your vehicle as a result it may be best to simply keep your vehicle as is and not try to do anything that modifies it to a point where it becomes a distraction to you or anyone else for that matter. Even modifications to your wheels can impact how your speedometer keeps track of what speed you are traveling.
All of us, no matter how careful we are, are going to be pulled over. When that does happen, it is important to stay calm. Take some deep breaths if you can feel yourself beginning to feel anxious. Your heart rate needs to come down so that you can better assess your situation and make good decisions. No sudden movements. Approach the situation like you would if you needed to show someone that you were no threat to them. If you are given a ticket and want to appear in court, you can usually change the date one time. Once you do that you can ask for a date that is not suggested by the court clerk. This may decrease the chances of the officer showing up to court. However, the most effective choice you make in a situation involving a trial or hearing on a criminal matter is to set up a free-of-charge consultation with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan.
Questions about the material contained in today’s blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today’s blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed criminal law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way to learn more about the world of Texas criminal law as well as about how you may be impacted by getting pulled over by law enforcement.