An Experienced Federal Defense Attorney

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The Trivial "Traffic Stop"

This week let's look at one of the more common situations which I encounter in my practice -- the trivial "traffic stop". I used the word trivial intentionally. This is not the ordinary speeding or reckless driving stop, which generally are valid. By trivial I mean a stop which is technically legal but used for other purposes than traffic management. One of the key aspects of such trivial stops is the assurance at the beginning of the stop that no ticket will be issued. The stop itself is generally for some obscure violation like crossing an edge line or following too close (without a collision or other traffic reaction) or changing lanes without signaling long enough (yes you must signal for not less than 100 feet before changing lanes).

So, if there is no ticket, why do these occur? They are investigatory and interdiction traffic stops. The point is to get you to talk to them so they may develop probable cause to search your vehicle. The officer has the legal right to request that you present your license and insurance verification card. Rarely in Oklahoma is anyone asked about registration. If asked, it is the white page you get at the time of purchasing your sticker or new plate and generally you throw it in the glove box and forget about it.

The officer is entitled to ask you about matters unrelated to your reason for being stopped. These include travel plans, destinations, hotel usage, persons you will be visiting etc. He/she is looking for responses which can be characterized as inconsistent. The officer is not being friendly, he is being friendly to get you to talk so he can search. Don't take the bait. Be pleasant but the officer is working and this is not a social gathering. You have the right not to talk to them about such extraneous matters as where you are going or where you are coming from.

Eventually, you will be given your Warning ticket and your license and insurance will be returned. You are now free to be on your way -- but wait next comes the ubiquitous "Do you have time for a couple more questions?"

NEXT TIME -- how you answer that question is going to determine your immediate future and possibly your freedom.