Should you get out of your car if police pull you over?

While you're in college, you no doubt face any number of challenges on a daily basis. From getting to classes on time, remembering to do your own laundry or making the money your parents sent you last a sufficient amount of time, you likely succeed in many areas and drop the ball in others. That's life. It's a learning experience.

Hopefully, you'll make it through your entire college career without serious problems and will one day join your fellow classmates as you walk across a stage to receive your diploma. In the meantime, you may hit certain obstacles in your journey, some more difficult to overcome than others. For instance, if you're driving to a nearby restaurant to meet up with some friends on your free time and a police officer pulls you over, your path to success may be interrupted for a time.

Knowing what to do (and what not to do) ahead of time may help

If it's the first time you have ever been involved in a traffic stop, you heart rate may be soaring. Even if you've been through similar experiences in the past, it can be quite stressful, regardless. The following list includes ideas to help you navigate the process of a traffic stop:

  • First and foremost, after you safely pull to the side of the road and turn off the ignition in your car, your instinct might be to step out of your vehicle. Do not do this! Never exit your vehicle during a traffic stop unless a police officer instructs you to do so. Otherwise, an officer may see your behavior as an imminent threat.
  • It's okay to roll your window down (in fact, it's necessary); however, you shouldn't reach for anything inside your car until the officer approaching you asks you to do so, such to present your driver's license and vehicle registration card.
  • You might wonder whether you should speak at all during a traffic stop. It's best to politely answer basic questions regarding your name, address or any other personal or vehicle identification information. Beyond that, however, you may invoke your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent unless legal representation is present.
  • Police typically have no reason to search your car during an average traffic stop. If you act suspiciously though, it may be grounds for reasonable suspicion that could immediately compound your problems. You do not have to consent to a search of your property or person. In fact, you may verbally state that you do not consent to a search. A judge will later determine if an officer's actions were valid if he or she conducts a search without your consent if you submit a challenge in court.

If you cooperate as best you can and do not act in any way that suggests you are hiding something or planning aggression, you may be able to mitigate your circumstances with minimal lasting consequences. If you get a speeding ticket or the officer tells you you're free to go but you have a tail light out or something similar, you can be glad it wasn't more serious and fulfill any instructions the officer may have given you as soon as possible.

If, on the other hand, the officer winds up arresting you and charging you with a crime, things may get a whole lot worse before they get better. Many Wisconsin college students request immediate assistance from defense attorneys rather than trying to fight against charges on their own.

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