Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Traffic Stop

One of a citizen's most common interactions with a police officer is the traffic stop. Being pulled over for speeding, failing to use a turn signal, a malfunctioning brake or headlight, are all typical reasons why one would be pulled over. How a citizen reacts to being pulled over will have a tremendous affect on the extent of the hassle of the encounter.

A driver should always make sure his/her insurance, registration and license are within easy reach and everything is up to date. Driving without insurance can turn a $150 speeding ticket into a $500 or $600 headache.

Staying calm during the encounter and announcing what you're doing to the officer is also key. Officers may be jumpy or excitable and if one starts to argue with him/her there is a risk of escalating the situation.

Often Officers will ask "Do you know why I pulled you over?" Drivers are not required to answer this question. If it's plainly obvious why, like going 75 in a 25 MPH school zone, one should not lie and say, "no". That is more likely to upset the officer. In such a case the best policy is probably to refuse to answer. Something along the lines of "I'd rather not answer that question," should suffice.

The roadside search is another topic I'll be covering in the future, so we'll put that on hold for now.

After the officer issues the ticket and the person is free to go he or she should immediately consult an attorney. Most tickets require a response within 10 days. While the fine may not be high and it may cost just as much or more for a consultation with an attorney there are significant collateral consequences a driver needs to worry about. Collateral consequences are non-criminal penalties imposed, usually by PennDOT, such as license or registration suspensions. If the driver simply pleads guilty and pays the fine he or she may find out a month later about the license suspension, potentially after the appeal period has run. In such a case there may be nothing an attorney can do at that point.

Sometimes it makes sense to plead not guilty and fight the ticket. While most State Police Officers have cameras installed in their cars that begin recording prior to the takedown lights being activated, many smaller municipal departments do not. Additionally the cameras are sometimes faulty or the footage is lost by the time of hearing. Fighting the ticket isn't always about trying to prove oneself right, often it's about trying to reach an amicable resolution where the driver still receives some punishment, but not something as harsh as a license suspension. There are many options as to what can be done here.

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