What do I do if I am pulled over by police?
By Deborah Ann Frederick, Attorney
Fear strikes your heart as you notice the red and blue lights in your rearview mirror or worse, suddenly hear the police siren behind you. As you pull over many things might cross your mind, including, “What did I do wrong?” or “I’m getting caught!” There are some basic things you can do to make this process easier or prevent it altogether.
First, the best preventive measure to being pulled over by police is to make sure your vehicle is in proper working order, specifically, make sure all your lights and blinkers are working. Once a month, have a friend or loved one stand first in front of your car and then behind it while you go through testing all your lights and blinkers.
Sometimes a non-working taillight is the only reason the officer has to pull you over. You can prevent this ticket, or worse, receiving a criminal charge if the officer notices something else is wrong once he or she is speaking with you.
Like what? Well, say you had a strong drink at dinner in a restaurant. You are, hypothetically, only at a .06 and you are driving perfectly. But your taillight is out. You are pulled over for the taillight but when you speak with the officer he notices your breath smells like alcohol and your eyes are a little bloodshot.
The next thing you know, you may be on the side of the road doing field sobriety tests and blowing into the handheld breathalyzer (both actions of which are voluntary in this state which means you may politely refuse to give this evidence to the officer). If there is evidence that your driving wasn’t perfect, or you are affected by what you consumed, even if the case eventually gets dismissed, you may be subject to arrest and charged with DUI. And who wants that stress?
Second, know the rules of the road. And follow those rules. Use your blinker every time. Come to a complete stop every time. If you need a review, contact the Department of Licensing or check out the Washington State Patrol website athttp://www.wsp.wa.gov/traveler/roadrules.htm to read the actual laws.
You might think that if you fail to stop you are only going to receive a ticket, but if the officer has evidence you were driving in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property, you may be facing a misdemeanor called “Reckless Driving”. Can you afford a criminal record?
Third, don’t forget to carry your license with you. Being pulled over for a non-working taillight can turn into a very expensive ticket called “NVOL” (No Valid Operator’s License) or having to come to court with proof you have a valid license if you forget.
Fourth, perhaps it’s never a bad idea to carry the name and phone number of a criminal defense attorney in your wallet. Many answer their cell phones 24/7 to help a potential client who is having police contact or is under arrest. This way, if you ask for an attorney, when the officer says, “Sure, here’s the phone,” you actually have someone to call. Of course, you can always ask that the officer contact the local public defender for you.
This article is by no means comprehensive, and of course I am not endorsing drunken driving or driving poorly, but the above are just a few things to think about if you’ve ever noticed lights in your rear-view mirror or fear it.
Deborah Frederick is a local attorney and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org