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Regardless of the circumstances, being pulled over and questioned by police is a stressful thing. The ensuing confusion and disorientation can often lead people to do and say things they later regret, and with the potential consequences including loss of your license, loss of your car and possible criminal liability, getting it wrong on the side of the road really isn’t much of an option.
The good news is your rights remain yours even during a traffic stop. Even if you believe you have violated traffic laws or even criminal laws, that doesn’t mean you forfeit your right to fair and just treatment by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are stopped by police.
Under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, no person may be compelled to be a witness against himself. What this means is the police cannot compel you to testify, make a statement, answer questions or produce any evidence. Depending on the jurisdiction, you may be required to identify yourself, but even that may be unnecessary.
This right is one of the most important if you find yourself the target of any kind of investigation. Under no circumstances should you participate in any kind of interrogation. You are under no legal obligation to answer questions, so don’t. What you say can’t help you at trial and will not prevent the officer from arresting or citing you. It cannot help you, so keep quiet.
Do Not Consent
Under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, you and your property are secure from unreasonable search and seizure. Under no circumstances should you consent to a search of your person or vehicle. In order to conduct a lawful search, police must have probable cause and a warrant. If you are asked to exit the vehicle, roll up the windows, take your keys and lock the car. Do not give your keys to any officer. If asked, remain silent and repeat you don’t consent to any search.
Ask for Counsel
The Fourth and Fifth Amendments are designed to interlock and protect you in the event you are suspected of a crime. They require the police and the state to develop their own evidence to convict, which can be a high bar to clear in most cases.
If you are arrested or detained for driving under the influence in Los Angeles, for example, your next step is to ask for a qualified Los Angeles DUI Attorney. The reason this is an important step is because asking for an attorney forces the police to immediately cease their investigation until such time as you’ve had an opportunity to consult with counsel. It often doesn’t hurt to ask for an attorney much earlier in the process, but it’s something you should definitely do if you are arrested or detained for questioning.
Criminal matters can be quite complex. It is nearly impossible, even for an attorney, to navigate the system on your own. Your rights are there to protect you, so exercise them. Make certain you don’t make matters worse for yourself by answering questions, trying to defend yourself to police or becoming emotional.
Remember, everything you say will be used against you, and nothing you say can help you: Not by the side of the road and not at trial. Protect yourself, hire a lawyer and let them do the talking. It’s the better way to go in every situation.