A few months ago, I was pulled over by a police officer driving home late Sunday night from a soccer tournament in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Even though I am a criminal defense attorney who deals with law enforcement on a regular basis, I was still nervous when I saw the blue lights in my rear-view mirror. As soon as I realized I was the reason for the lights and siren, I immediately turned on my turn signal and looked for a safe place to pull over. My husband, Kent, who was napping in the passenger seat, sat up, adjusted his seat and turned on the interior light. He made sure that his hands were visible. Although my initial instinct was to reach for my purse and dig out my drivers license and insurance, I rolled the window all the way down and placed both hands on the steering wheel. The officer walked up, stood behind my left shoulder and shined his flashlight into the car.
He said, “Good evening. Do you know why I pulled you over?”
I truthfully answered, “No, I don’t, Sir.”
He replied, “You were going 60 miles an hour in a 40 mile an hour zone.”
We were traveling on U.S. Highway 23, a four-lane road, where the speed limit frequently changed from 55 miles per hour in rural areas to as low as 35 miles per hour in small towns.
I apologized, “I’m sorry, Sir, I didn’t see the speed limit sign.”
The officer asked for my driver’s license and I told him it was in my purse which was located on the front passenger floorboard at Kent’s feet. I slowly reached for my purse, fished my license out of my wallet and handed it to the officer.
He looked at my license and then asked me where we were going. I told him that we were going home to Cusseta, Alabama. He asked me where we had been and I explained that we were coming from a soccer tournament in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The officer shined his light in the back seat where my son was sitting. He saw my son’s backpack with a soccer ball in the front pouch, empty Gatorade bottles, cleats, shin guards and dirty goal keeper jersey on the seat where Kasey had hastily dumped them after changing clothes in the car.
The police officer said, “I’m gonna let you go with a warning. Be sure to watch your speed on the rest of your way home.” I thanked him profusely, knowing that I certainly deserved a speeding ticket.
As a criminal defense attorney, I know that traffic stops are very dangerous for police officers and they are on high alert. In the aftermath of recent violent confrontations during police traffic stops, there are five things you should do when you see blue lights in your rear view mirror:
1. Pull over to a safe spot as soon as possible, using your turn signal.
2. Roll the window all the way down and wait for the police officer to come to your vehicle. Do not get out of your car unless instructed to do so.
3. Keep your hands on the steering wheel and keep your seat belt on.
4. If it is dark, turn on the interior light.
5. Do not move around in your vehicle. Do not reach under your seat, lean over to open the glove compartment, or search for your purse or wallet.
Most of all, stay calm and be polite. It can make the difference between a ticket and a warning. Now is not the time to fight a traffic ticket or even an arrest. Be sure to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible after the stop to protect your rights.