Why Did You Get Pulled Over?
The Pretext Stop
A Pretext Stop is widely agreed by everyone I spoke to before writing this article as the one reason that bothers them the most about being pulled over. This stop is when you are pulled over for one reason (failing to signal at a stop sign), and then get in trouble for an unrelated reason altogether, (DUI). I was given a great story about the evils of this type of stop, however, there are also good reasons for it.
Bad News First: My colleague was driving home with her husband from a restaurant in Denver, Colorado. They had gone to an Italian place, and had ordered and enjoyed most of a bottle of Chianti. She wanted to take it home, so it was corked, placed in a brown paper bag, and in the back seat of their car for the ride home. Sometime along the ride, the bottle and bag fell over, and during a turn, the bottle separated from the bag.
Then, she was pulled over by an officer for changing lanes without signaling. The officer gets her license and registration, looks in the back seat and sees the wine bottle, and makes her get out of the car. She’s given a field sobriety test, which she passes well under the legal limit. She wasn’t given a ticket for not signaling, but she is given a ticket for having an open container in her car. Instead of a $50 ticket, it turned into a $150 ticket. Many people feel that the police officer must stick to the reason why they are pulling a suspect over, and cannot add more charges onto the stop.
On the flip side, the argument for the “pretext stop” is quite compelling. While it does seem unfair that an officer of the law may pull you over for something minor, and charge you with something much more major once you’ve stopped; there is a proven track record of this practice bringing in major criminals.
If you search pretext stops on google, you will find multiple articles from newspapers about a ring of Identity Thieves, or Smugglers that were foiled by a pretext stop. These men and women got careless while driving, and when they were pulled over, subsequent investigation found more sinister crimes. If the pretext stop was found to be unconstitutional, all that evidence would have been inadmissible. It seems that to keep the tools necessary to fight crime in the right hands, this is an inconvenience we will have to live with.
You’ve been Pretext Stopped, What can you do?
First, obey any instruction by the officer. This is the best thing to do during any stop of any type. If you give the officer any reason to, they will exercise the absolute limits of their rights to hassle, search, and detain you.
Second, there are a few ways you can fight the pretext stop. If you feel that you were pulled over frivolously, here are some tips:
1) Stop ASAP! – Now, obviously don’t stop so fast that the officer behind you has to slam on their brakes, but there is a reason for stopping fast. Anytime you are given a ticket, the officer must make notes of the reason why he stopped you, what time it was, and where the offense took place. I will tell you how to speak to the officer in a later point, but the short version: say nothing, and after the officer leaves; go to the exact spot of the infraction (written on your ticket). Take pictures of everything, speed limit signs, where the police officer was parked, and anyone of relevance. If you find that the infraction is erroneous, the case will be thrown out.
2) Say Nothing – You have a right to remain silent, please use it. From the very moment that you are to be pulled over, the police have a light on your car, and a camera and microphone recording EVERYTHING. Do not say anything that could possibly incriminate you. The only thing you should say is I wish to remain silent, and I do not consent to any searches of my person or property. According to many officers, the majority of the time the suspects incriminate themselves.
Its Over, Now What?
When it comes to Pretext Stops, there is very little evidence necessary to conduct a search or make you take a field sobriety test. Most importantly, the officer wants to make sure that you aren’t drunk so you won’t endanger the public. From the moment you are pulled over, the Officer has the power. Please make his job easy by complying with his demands, and waiting until the proper forum to voice your complaints. Even if you feel you want to teach the officer a lesson, save it for the courtroom; keep quiet, gather your data, thank the officer, and set a court date. Ideally, you want to be more prepared than your accuser, so don’t let the officer know you wish to dispute the charge. In the end, pretext stops are a reality, and have proven very effective for law enforcement. So just take steps to protect yourself.
Pete Wise is a Content Creation Specialist and a White-Hat SEO Jedi. This article was written for Phil Clark, a Boulder DUI Attorney serving the Greater Denver Metro Area. Call him if you need a Boulder Lawyer. Follow Pete on Twitter: @MySEOHeadache or Connect with Pete on Google+