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Things NOT to Do When Stopped by the Police

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Nov 16, 2023

Interactions with law enforcement can be stressful and challenging, whether they pull you over for a traffic stop, approach you in public, or show up at your door.

While citizens do have certain rights in these situations, many people make common mistakes during these interactions that can make the situation worse—in some cases, even provoking an arrest, eliciting the use of force, or incriminating themselves and making it more likely that they will be convicted of a crime.

Most of the things listed below are common sense, but when some people are under stressful situations, such as being pulled over, they don't always make common-sense decisions.

Things NOT to Do When Stopped by the Police
There are many common sense things you should not do when stopped by the police.

For example, you should always be mindful of how you communicate with police officers. Everything you say or do can be used in legal proceedings. Avoid arguing with a police officer or making sudden movements or gestures that could be misinterpreted. Be conscious of your body language and emotions during the interaction​​.

Also, while you have the constitutional right to express yourself, disrespecting a police officer could escalate the situation and lead to your arrest. Maintaining a respectful demeanor is essential, even if you disagree with the officer's actions​​.

Further, avoid stopping your car in traffic. If you're driving and need to pull over, do not stop your vehicle in a way that obstructs traffic. It would be best to look for a safe area to pull over. Likewise, do not exit your vehicle unless asked explicitly by an officer​​.

You should never throw anything out of the window when pulled over. Discarding items can be seen as suspicious behavior or an attempt to hide evidence​​. To reduce your chances of having things take a turn for the worse, let's look at some things you should avoid if you're stopped by police in California.

  1. Ignoring Their Instructions

When a police officer signals you to stop, you must comply immediately. Ignoring or resisting their instructions can escalate the situation and potentially lead to further complications. Remember that police officers are trained professionals tasked with maintaining public safety. Following their instructions promptly demonstrates respect for their authority and helps ensure a smoother interaction.

  1. Making Sudden Movements

During a police stop, making quick or unexpected actions can be perceived by law enforcement as threatening, prompting them to react defensively. Instead, make sure your movements are slow and deliberate. This helps communicate nonverbally to the officers that you pose no threat, contributing to a safer and more controlled environment for all involved.

  1. Arguing or Being Disrespectful

While it's natural to feel frustrated or even unjustly targeted during a police stop, arguing or being disrespectful won't help your case. Maintaining a calm and collected demeanor is more likely to result in a positive outcome. Remember, if an officer talks to you provocatively or seems inappropriately aggressive, you can voice your concerns later through appropriate channels such as a legal representative or formal complaint. If the officer broke rules or violated your rights, you will get justice more easily by responding later than during the stop.

  1. Consenting to a Search Without a Warrant or Probable Cause

You can politely refuse a search of yourself or your belongings unless the officer can articulate reasonable suspicion. Understanding and exercising this right is essential to protecting your personal liberties during a police stop. However, it's equally important to communicate your refusal respectfully and clearly (see item 3 above).

  1. Running Away

While you're not required to stay put unless you've been officially detained or arrested, running away is often considered suspicious behavior and could potentially give the police probable cause to detain you. As a result, it greatly increases your chances of being arrested and maybe even charged with additional offenses. Instead, if you wish to leave, ask the officer politely if you're free to go. Make sure the officer confirms you're not being detained before leaving.

  1. Lying About Your Identity

In California, you're not legally required to show the police your identification unless you are being lawfully detained or arrested (the exception being if you're the driver at a traffic stop, at which point you must present your driver's license on request. That being said, identifying yourself falsely to the police is a crime (Penal Code 148.9 PC) and can lead to additional charges. If you're not the driver at a traffic stop, you have the right to politely decline to identify yourself if the officer hasn't detained you—but if you do (or must) identify yourself, be truthful.

  1. Volunteering Information

During a police stop, it's advisable to speak only when spoken to and only provide information directly requested. Volunteering extra information can sometimes work against you, even if you haven't officially read your "Miranda Rights." It's crucial to balance cooperation with the preservation of your rights.

  1. Resisting Arrest

If you're being arrested, even if you believe it's unjust, resist the urge to struggle or fight back. Resisting arrest can lead to additional charges and increase the risk of physical harm. Instead, comply with the officer's instructions and voice your objections through an attorney or court later.

  1. Admitting Guilt

If you're stopped for a suspected violation, such as driving under the influence, do not admit guilt at the scene. Even if you believe you've made a mistake, it's always best to consult a California criminal defense attorney before making official statements. Remember, anything you say can and will be used against you in court.

Too many people convict themselves in a DUI investigation by trying to cooperate with police or even to charm the police officer.  You have certain legal rights, so use them, but respectfully. Don't try to get on the officer's good side by confessing you had anything to drink.  They will not consider this honesty as being respectful.  They will consider it evidence against you only. Only give the police your driver's license, vehicle registration, and insurance information if requested. 

Don't try to befriend the police. They do not care to have you as a friend.  Do not joke with them. If pulled over for DUI, do not take any field sobriety test (FST), which includes walking in a straight line, standing on one foot, putting your finger to your nose, etc.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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