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Five Things to Do If You Get Pulled Over by a Police Officer

While I worked at the District Attorney’s Office, I prosecuted cases for Salt Lake County and the State of Utah.  While there, I handled difficult and complex criminal charges from arraignment to trial.  This experience has proven invaluable as it has given me an inside look at the system I would later face across the courtroom.

If I can give one bit of advice right now, I would give you five things to do if you get pulled over by a police officer:

  1. Officers can pull you over for almost any reason. With new laws introduced every year the Legislature has made it easier and easier for law enforcement to make traffic stops.  The unfortunate reality of many of these laws is that law enforcement can now go from traffic stop to a full search of your vehicle without you ever committing a crime.  There’s little you can do to control whether you will be stopped by law enforcement.  If they want to stop you, it takes little effort to come up with a reason.  Touch the white line with a tire? Signal for less than two seconds?  Something hanging from your rear view mirror?  Once you’ve been stopped, assert your rights.
  2. Don’t Consent to a Search. Law enforcement’s favorite line is, “you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.”  This usually accompanies a request to search your vehicle.  Don’t be fooled.  Officers don’t ask for consent unless they think they might need it.  Your consent waives any right or protection a lawyer can use in court.  Now this can often times be very tricky and even dangerous.  An Officer might try to hide his request for consent in the form of a statement or strangely worded question.  For example, “I’m going to search your car now, ok?”  Your response, or even failure to object, can allow a judge to uphold the search.  Consider this question: “You don’t mind if I search your car quick?  If you say yes, are you saying you do mind? Or yes you can search?  If you respond no, is that no you don’t mind? Or no don’t search my car?  Even the differences between “yeah”, “sure”, “ok” can give law enforcement the edge they need to justify a search.
  3. “I Do Not Consent to a Search of My Vehicle.”  Instead of attempting to ferret out the correct response to a particular request, simply and politely inform the officer that “I do not consent to a search of my vehicle.”  State this calmly and repeat it if necessary.  Police can and will threaten you with any number of things.  Ignore threats that they will obtain a warrant.  Ignore promises of leniency.  Ignore statements that they will search you anyway.  Most importantly, ignore threats of arrest and prosecution.  Make your refusal to consent polite and firm.  DO NOT PHYSICALLY TRY TO STOP A SEARCH.  Even if they’ve ignored your refusal to consent and begin searching your vehicle do not yell, do not shout, and do not physical confront the officers.
  4. Even if the Officer Claims to Smell Something, Do Not Consent. The most common situation exploited by law enforcement is the odor of marijuana.  An officer will stop you for a seemingly minor traffic offense, approach your driver’s side window, ask for your license and registration, then either tell you they smell marijuana or ask if you have marijuana in the vehicle.  Regardless of how you respond Utah law allows a warrantless search based solely on the officer’s claim that they smelled marijuana in the vehicle.  Even in this situation: DO NOT CONSENT TO A SEARCH.   Officers will often use this tactic to fish for consent in case they fail to find evidence of marijuana.  Protect your rights, state calmly and politely, “I do not consent to a search.”  It can be the crucial piece of evidence that wins your case.
  5. Call me, Utah criminal defense attorney Ryan Holtan, at (801) 495-4104.  If you do get a ticket, call  me right away. You deserve protection and representation by someone who cares about you and your rights.

I hope this article “Five Things to Do If You Get Pulled Over by a Police Officer” is helpful to you.