It has been a while since I wrote about what to do when you get pulled over by the cops for a traffic ticket. Although I have posted several blogs about the topic, it seems that even my friends are not getting the message. Let me explain. My friend Adam got pulled over recently and told me about the ticket he received. He said he was pulled over for speeding. When the cop came to his window and asked him if he knew how fast he was going, he said “I know I was speeding a little bit, but I was only keeping up with traffic.” Now, for the record, I completely believe him. The problem is, even if the cop believed him, he has just confessed to speeding. Keeping up with traffic is no excuse to speed in South Florida. It is not excuse anywhere. So, why did he say this to the cop? When I asked him, he said “I don’t know, but it is the truth.” I asked him if he was scared, he said yes. I asked him if he thought by telling the truth the cop would give him a break, he said yes. I asked him if he read my blogs and remembered our many conversations, he said yes. Then why would a grown professional man do the exact opposite of what his friend the traffic ticket lawyer told him to do? Probably because of the way we are brought up regarding police officers. Let me explain.
When we are young we are told that if we are ever in trouble or get lost, we should try to find a police man to help us. We are trained from a very young age to seek out the police when we need help. Moreover, we are told that they have a lot of power and they are authority figures. To some extent, this is all true. However, most people never actually interact with the police. In fact 75% of Americans will only experience an encounter with a cop when they get pulled over for a traffic ticket. The problem is that we remember what our parents told us about the police and forget that we are now adults. We forget that over half the cops in this country do not have a college degree. We don’t realize that it is MUCH harder to get a license to be a beautician that it is to become a cop. We never think about the fact that a lot of people become cops because they could not do anything else. Not all police officers fit this model, but if you are at least of average health and average intelligence with a high school diploma, you can be a cop. The only real obstacle is that you have not committed any felonies before you became a cop.
The first thing that my Criminal Procedure Professor in law school asked, and everyone got wrong, was “who is the most powerful person in the judicial system?” The correct answer is the cop you meet on the street. Understand that almost nobody takes a defendant’s word over the word of a cop. Fortunately, video cameras and the like are making this a little less true, but the fact remains. Nine times out of ten, the Judge and/or the Jury will believe the cop over the defendant. What this means in practical terms is that when cops lie, they almost never get caught. It also means that if the cop does not like you because you are black, Hispanic or look “wrong” he can do almost anything he wants. Do you realize that all a cop has to say is “the defendant swung at me” and you will be charged with a second degree felony. Worse than the charge is that you will almost certainly be convicted if there are no witnesses. Talk about power!
SO WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Okay, now that I have scared you, here is some practical advice when you do get pulled over by the police for a traffic ticket, or anything else. First, always keep your hands on the wheel so the officer can see them. This will put him at ease. Second, when he asks why he pulled you over, say no as politely as you can. When he tells you why he pulled you over, don’t respond or try to defend yourself. You must assume you are being recorded by a microphone under the officer’s shirt. Third, don’t argue with him. If he asks you for documents or to get out of the car, do it. Remember, he has the power on the street and you will not win in any sense of the word with him. Also remember that his ego is huge and he assumes you are a criminal. When he gives you the ticket, say thank you and nothing else. Good news is that, although he has the power on the street, the lawyers have the power in the courtroom. As a trial attorney for the last 15 years I can tell you the highlight of my career was proving in court how cops lie. Catching them in lies and showing the judge and jury how they lie.
Thus, if you get pulled over for a traffic ticket just be polite and don’t argue. If you get pulled over for drugs or DUI, also be polite since you are probably on video as well as audio. Don’t admit to ANYTHING. Not even one drink or one joint the night before. Call me as soon as you can after your encounter and let me know what happened. Then let us go to court and work out magic. Remember, as powerful as the cop of the street may be, he is not the smartest tool in the shed and we can and do beat them all the time.