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Updated by Alan Diamond on Nov 21, 2017
Headline for 5 Tips to Handle a Police-Initiated Stop and/or Search of Your Vehicle
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5 Tips to Handle a Police-Initiated Stop and/or Search of Your Vehicle

The tips below can help you conduct yourself calmly during a car stop and ensure that you don’t make the situation worse for yourself.


Stay calm and polite

You may be scared or nervous, or annoyed, but acting in any manner other than polite can only aggravate the officer who stops you, and will not help your case. Remain calm and refrain from being antagonistic. Don’t let your nerves take over, as you may unintentionally incriminate yourself, and don’t let your annoyance or anger affect your behavior.


Have your documentation on hand and readily available

All traffic stops start out in a similar way—the officer will approach your vehicle and ask for your driver’s license and vehicle registration. Knowing where these documents are, and being able to access them immediately (for example, storing them in your glove box) gets you off to a smooth start. A person who is fumbling for paperwork or has to think about where these documents are could come across as intoxicated or otherwise impaired by drugs.


Use your head

The officer who stopped you may try to trick you into revealing incriminating evidence, banking on you to be panicked and flustered. He may ask you if you have anything illegal or anything that could be considered trouble in your vehicle, and he is counting on you to respond out of a sense of cooperation or fear. However, you have no responsibility to respond, and you never have to volunteer information that could get you in trouble. If you have contraband in your car, or you are on your way home from the bar, you should definitely keep that information to yourself.


Know your rights

This is by far the most critical tip, and if you only remember one, it should be this. The Fourth Amendment protects all American citizens from illegal search and seizure, and this includes a person’s vehicle. If an officer stops you and asks to search your vehicle, you have the right to refuse. He can only initiate a search if he has probable cause of illegal activity—maybe he smells marijuana or alcohol, or has noticed erratic driving behavior. Without probable cause, he has to let you go if you refuse to give consent. It’s also important to note that only the car’s driver can consent to have the vehicle searched.


Contact an attorney as soon as possible

Keep this list in mind, and prepare yourself for the possibility that you may be pulled over and asked to consent to a search of your vehicle. If this happens, your ability to respond calmly and refuse anything that may violate your rights can help you protect yourself and keep you from further legal issues. If you find yourself in need of help, contact a criminal defense attorney right away.