How to Handle a Traffic Stop?

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 What is a Speeding and Moving Violation?

In most cases, a legal violation that involves a traffic ticket is some form of speeding and moving violation. Speeding and moving violations typically occur when motor vehicles are in motion.

A speeding and moving violation may involve numerous issues, including:

  • Speeding;
  • Driving recklessly or dangerously;
  • Driving while under the influence;
  • Exhibitions of speed;
  • Failure to follow traffic rules, for example, not stopping at a red light;
  • Racing; and
  • Various other violations.

It is important to note that not every traffic court case involves a speeding and moving violation. Examples of common non-moving traffic violations include:

  • A citation for an outdated license plate;
  • A citation for an outdated registration sticker;
  • Illegal parking; and
  • Keeping a motor vehicle that is non-operational parked on the street for too long.

Most traffic tickets are considered citations and result in a small fine. Some violations, however, may result in misdemeanor traffic offenses or felony traffic offenses, especially if another individual is injured or killed.

There are many different types of traffic violations. The laws governing traffic violations typically vary from state to state.

Traffic misdemeanors usually involve a risk to:

  • Human life;
  • Safety; or
  • Property.

The following conduct is typically considered a criminal traffic misdemeanor:

  • Reckless driving;
  • Driving without automobile insurance;
  • Driving without a license;
  • Hit and run accidents;
  • Failing to stop after an accident occurs; and
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, called DUI or DWI.

Felony traffic offenses are more serious than misdemeanor traffic offenses and will, therefore, result in more severe penalties. Traffic offenses that are classified as felonies will vary by state.

The following conduct is typically considered to be a felony traffic offense:

  • Vehicular manslaughter;
  • Vehicular homicide;
  • Consecutive DUI convictions;
  • Repeat offenses, including driving without a license;
  • Forms of reckless driving that cause injury or property damage;
  • Hit and run;
  • Leaving the scene of an accident; and
  • Fleeing from law enforcement.

What Should I Do if I Am Stopped by a Police Officer?

If you were to ask any individual who operates a motor vehicle whether they or someone they know has been stopped by law enforcement for a traffic violation, chances are they will say yes either they have or they know someone who has. In reality, traffic stops are very common on public roadways and most drivers will be subject to one at some point or another.

If an individual is stopped by a law enforcement officer for a traffic violation, there are some important tips they should keep in mind. These can increase their chances of receiving a citation and make the traffic stop a less stressful experience for both the driver and the law enforcement officer, including:

  • Slowing down and safely pulling over as soon as possible. This will avoid being accused of evading the police officer;
  • Remaining calm. Keep in mind that it is possible to have committed a minor traffic violation unintentionally, or the officer may wish to alert the driver to an issue with their vehicle;
  • Turning off the vehicle’s engine;
  • Keeping both hands clearly in sight and, if possible, on the steering wheel;
  • Not exiting the vehicle unless instructed by the officer to do so;
  • Being courteous and non-confrontational;
  • Complying with the officer’s request to:
    • See a driver’s license;
    • Registration; and
    • Proof of insurance;
  • Remaining polite;
  • Do not volunteer information. If the officer continues to question the driver, they should ask:
    • Am I under arrest?;
    • Am I free to leave?; and
    • Ask to speak to a lawyer, and then say it is their wish not to answer any questions until they have;
  • Signing tickets. This is almost always not an admission of guilt but merely acknowledging receipt of the ticket; and
  • Asking for the name of the officer as well as their badge number.

What Should I Do if the Police Car is Unmarked?

There are many law enforcement departments that use both marked and unmarked patrol cars to conduct traffic stops. In some instances, however, the driver of an unmarked vehicle attempting to pull another vehicle over may, in fact, be an individual who is pretending to be a law enforcement officer for the purpose of engaging in illegal activity.

Although impersonating a police officer is illegal, it does occur. In these situations, it is best practice to:

  • Turn on four-way hazard lights to notify the officer that the driver will pull over;
  • Call 911 and ask the dispatcher to verify that it is an actual law enforcement officer. This may be accomplished by verifying the vehicle description and location;
  • With the hazard lights turned on, drive to the nearest well-lit and populated area; and
  • If the unmarked vehicle is being operated by a law enforcement officer who is wearing plain clothes, the driver can request that a uniformed officer respond to the scene.

Can I Fight a Traffic Ticket?

It may be possible for an individual who has received a citation for a traffic violation to fight the ticket. This will depend upon which violation the citation is based.

In certain cases, an individual may have a defense to the violation, such as if they were making an illegal turn to avoid a traffic accident. There are some strategies which may be successful when attempting to fight a traffic citation, including:

  • Challenging the observations of the officer;
  • Mistake of fact conduct;
  • Legally justified conduct; and
  • Conduct to avoid harm.

The individual who received the citation may be able to challenge the observations of the law enforcement officer who wrote the ticket. If the individual can provide photos of the area, witness statements, and a diagram of where their vehicle was in relation to the officer’s, their case will be stronger.

If an individual can prove to the court that they made an honest mistake or there was a mistake of fact, their ticket or charge may be dismissed. For example, if a stop sign was obstructed or stolen, the citation for a failure to stop may be thrown out.

Another possible defense may be legally justified conduct. If the individual can show that their actions were justified, their ticket may be dismissed. For example, if they were driving slowly in the left lane because they had to make a left turn.

A court may dismiss a traffic ticket if an individual can show that their actions were a direct result of attempting to avoid harm to themselves or another individual. For example, if an individual swerves across a double yellow line to avoid hitting an individual on a bicycle.

Although these defense strategies may be successful, it can still be difficult for an individual alone to get their traffic citation dismissed. It can be helpful to have the assistance of an attorney who will be experienced in presenting evidence to a court.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Traffic Violation?

It is essential to have the assistance of a traffic ticket attorney for any issues, questions, or concerns you may have related to a traffic violation. Your attorney can review your situation, advise you of your rights and determine if there may be defenses available to you.

Your attorney will advise you regarding whether or not you may be successful at fighting your traffic ticket in court, and if you choose to do so, your attorney will represent you. You should only have been cited for those violations which you committed.

If you believe you were treated unfairly, your attorney will help you present your case in court.


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