Getting Stopped by Law Enforcement in your Car

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Getting stopped during the evening while in your car by law enforcement can be a frightening experience for some and a nervous experience for most. Around Jackson, in the cities of Madison, Clinton, Flowood, Ridgeland, Brandon, and Pearl, the police are very vigilant as the evening goes on. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can guide you through the rules and laws that apply to traffic stops. There are some rules that are simply commonsense.

I tell people that your chances of getting pulled over at night from 11:00 p.m. to midnight are high and after midnight the chances grower even greater. It is very true that the later in the night or early morning it becomes, the greater your odds of being stopped. This is because the police presume most people have been out at a bar or nightclub, and another reason I suspect is the police have nothing to do and want to catch someone doing something wrong.

Something people often forget is that traffic stops also make officers nervous. Traffic stops and domestic disputes account for the majority of law enforcement deaths. When you add to a stop the fact that it is late at night or early in the evening and often times no one is around, the officers have a basis for being nervous and perhaps reacting harshly. When you get pulled over at night our advice has always been: 1) Pull over in a safe, lighted area if possible, 2) Once you pull over, open your window, turn on your dome light, and keep your hands on the steering wheel until the office has come up to your car and made contact with you.

I have also spoken on this topic before but by all means behave politely and respectful to the officer, even if the officer is not acting polite and respectful. Remember the old expressions from mom? “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” When you are our on the street, you are on the officers home turf. These days many police cars are equipped with video cameras to record how you were driving. The officers also have microphones that they turn on and record back at the station every word you have to say. When you act rude, cuss, or say disrespectful things, those statements will come back to haunt you in court. There is nothing worse for a lawyer than to have a great defense for a client in court only to then find out that the client cussed and acted rude to the officer on tape. An audio tape reflecting rude comments or cussing can affect your credibility. And by that I mean it can make the citizen on trial appear less honest and the cause of the problem. Go back and read my article in the January issue of the magazine “Portico,” styled Ten Things I have Learned from Criminal Defense. One of the most important is that your mouth can be your own worst enemy.

Keep in mind that being nice does not mean that you have to consent to Field Sobriety Tests or consent to a search of your automobile. Officers will routinely ask to search a car without any probable cause. I think the officers are just looking for more to do and they want to make a big arrest. The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant. Law enforcement cannot search your car unless they have probable cause. They can search your car if they smell marijuana in your car or if they arrest you for a traffic stop. The different reasons for a search are far too complicated to explain in this article. It is enough to know that you can say “no” to a search. Just say no politely and loudly enough that it goes onto the recorder.

It is not unusual for people to come into our office charged with DUI or marijuana possession and to have a disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and profane language. Most of the additional charges come from their conduct with the officer. If you have to defend a charge, it is much easier to defend one (1) rather than four (4). Your own behavior on the road when you confront a law enforcement officer can affect how your case is handled. I have daily complaints in our office about how an officer acted during a traffic stop. The officer’s rude behavior can frequently help you in the defense of a case, but only if your own behavior is above reproach. Keep in mind that traffic stops for law enforcement are dangerous events. Make the officers’ see comfortable when they approach your car at night, but you don’t have to consent to all their requests. You should however be nicer to the officer than he is to you. Kindness never hurts!

Merrida Coxwell is the managing partner of Coxwell & Associates, PLLC, a private law firm in Jackson and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The law firm focuses its attention on criminal defense all across Mississippi. They also handle serious and catastrophic personal injury and accident cases. In 2012 they helped two Mississippians recover 1.5 million and 2.3 million for injuries. Frank Coxwell, handles just consumer bankruptcy and mortgage problem.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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