It is essential that every citizen has a good idea of what to do when pulled over by the police if they want to stay out of jail and protect their rights — whether they’ve been drinking or not. If you want to walk away from a traffic stop without incriminating yourself or making yourself a target for law enforcement, you should, at minimum, know your rights during a traffic stop as well as how to interact with the police.

At Thiessen Law Firm, we help Texans fight back against illegal traffic stops, the inaccuracies of Texas field sobriety tests, and run-of-the-mill DWIs. Our experiences can help you better understand what to do and what not to do when you’re being pulled over by the police.

If you or a loved one was pulled over under suspicion of DWI, reckless driving, or drug possession, call the Houston criminal attorneys at Thiessen Law Firm today at (713) 864-9000 to make sure your rights are protected. 

What are my rights in Texas when I get pulled over?

Whether you’re driving home from a birthday at the bar or just running to HEB, being pulled over by the police is always a nerve-wracking experience. Before we talk about what to do when you’re pulled over, it’s crucial to first be aware of your rights during a traffic stop.

  1. You have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Can a cop search your car without consent?While the Fourth Amendment guarantees you to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, if the police have a valid reason to search your vehicle, they will. Still, you can assert this right and state that you object to your vehicle being searched, calmly of course, until the police arrive with a warrant. They may still search your car anyway, but your calm and conscientious objection must go on the record. 
  2. You have a right to remain silent. The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent. While you should answer questions about your name, your address, and other simple things, if the police ask you questions that could lead to self-incrimination, you do not have to answer them. 
  3. You have the right to record the police and the traffic stop. Be very careful about this one for a few reasons. While recording a traffic stop can help you in court, and might make sure that police, who would otherwise cut corners, do everything by the book. It can also hurt you if the video evidence is damaging. Also, if you reach into your pocket for a cell phone the police might think that you are reaching for a weapon — so make sure to exercise caution. 
  4. You have the right to legal representation. This may be your most important right during a traffic stop. Before answering any questions outside of basic identification information you can request the presence of a lawyer. Having legal counsel present when talking to law enforcement can help make sure that your rights are protected and that you do not unnecessarily incriminate yourself. 

If you plan on doing anything more than keeping quiet and calling your lawyer, you should acquaint yourself with things like the Texas probable cause definition and the significance of being read your Miranda warning Texas — contrary to popular belief if you are not read your rights it does not mean that you are free to go. 

Read more from the ACLU about your rights when stopped by the police or continue reading on our site: Rights police don’t want you to know in Texas.

What should you not do when you are pulled over

What not to say to police is almost as important as what to say to police when you’re pulled over. Here are a few common mistakes that people make when under pressure during a traffic stop. 

  1. Do not panic or act aggressively. This one should be pretty simple. Being aggressive or panicky can only escalate situations and make your life worse. 
  2. Do not say that you “only had two beers.” If you’ve been drinking, saying that you only had a couple of drinks is nothing more than an admission that you have been drinking. Either say “no” or invoke your right to remain silent. 
  3. Do not say you were “barely speeding.” Similar to saying that you “only had a few beers,” saying that you were only speeding by a few MPH is tantamount to an admission of guilt. 
  4. Do not say “Those are my friend’s drugs.” This is a very popular one. If you admit to the knowledge that a controlled substance was in your vehicle, you may have just admitted that the substance was in your possession, even if your friend purchased and stashed it there. This is another time when your Fifth Amendment right to silence will come in handy. 

These are the biggest mistakes that people make during a traffic stop. Knowing what to do when pulled over starts with knowing what not to do, and as long as you do not get aggressive and do not incriminate yourself, you’ll be off to a good start. 

What to do when pulled over in Texas

Whether you’ve been drinking or not, knowing what to do when pulled over by the police can mean the difference between going to jail and not going to jail. It’s an intense situation no matter what the particulars are.

Let’s take a few minutes to cover the basics.

1. Know the correct police pull-over procedure

The number one thing when it comes to knowing what to do when you’re pulled over by the police is to know the correct pull-over procedure. 

Even if you’re obeying the law completely, you are legally obligated to pull over for a police officer. Just because you’re pulling over, does not mean you’re admitting guilt to anything — you’re simply obeying the law. 

Keep in mind, however, that a police officer cannot pull you over just because. Reasonable suspicion is required, and if drinking and driving are believed to be at play, there must be telltale signs of drunk driving. In other words, the police officer must be using facts to come to the reasonable conclusion that you have committed a traffic violation.

So, how do you react when you get pulled over? 

When you notice a police officer behind you, here’s what you should do:

  1. Whether you’ve had a few drinks or you’re completely sober, find a safe spot to pull over. You should slow down, pull off to the right side of the road, and turn on your hazards. If it’s dark outside, consider turning on your interior lights.
  2. If you’re at all concerned about the officer or your personal safety, call 911 as you prepare to stop. Let them know that a police officer is attempting to pull you over, ask them for verification, and allow the operator to walk you through the next steps. 
  3. Roll down your window, keep your hands on the steering wheel, and wait for the officer to request documents from you. The goal at this point is to limit movement and to keep the police officer as calm as possible.

If you’re wondering, “Does a police officer have to tell you why you are being pulled over?” the answer is yes. So once the police officer approaches you, they should explain why you’ve been pulled over. If they don’t, ask them and continue to ask them until you receive a clear answer.

2. You have the right to remain silent — use it

Next up on what to do when pulled over by the police is… knowing when to keep your mouth shut. You have the right to remain silent. Never forget this — especially if you’ve had something to drink.

Everyone knows that you can have a drink and potentially still have a BAC level that legally allows for driving. But police officers are fishing for information. If you think you’re being honest and helpful by telling the officer that you’ve had “only one drink,” think again. 

If the officer asks you a question regarding where you were, how many drinks you’ve had, or anything similar, invoke your right to remain silent. Don’t say why. Don’t give excuses. Simply say, “I invoke my right to remain silent.” 

Say it firmly, and repeat it after every question the officer asks you…to a point. 

3. Know what questions you have to answer when you’re pulled over

While it is critical to invoke your right to remain silent, one thing you have to know about what to do when you’re pulled over by the police is that you are legally required to answer some questions and provide the proper documentation when asked for. These questions may or may not include information regarding:

  • Your legal name
  • Your driver’s license
  • Your current address
  • Your date of birth

If you fail to provide the correct information or refuse to provide this information altogether, you could be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. 

Police officers can ask you to step outside your vehicle, but if they ask to search your vehicle (or start searching it without asking), make sure to object to it. Police officers are not allowed to search your vehicle without probable cause. If they do so without probable cause, it’s a violation of your rights and could be used in your favor in the future. 

However, no matter what happens, remain calm, and do not forcibly try to prevent the officer from searching your vehicle. Simply state your objection and continue to remain calm and silent.

5. Blow, don’t bleed: why taking the breathalyzer test might be the best thing for you 

To blow or not to blow… that’s no longer a question. Blow. Always blow.

When a police officer suspects that you’re intoxicated, they’ll likely ask you to take a breathalyzer test. Many people are under the assumption that they should refuse the breathalyzer and submit to a blood test instead. That’s a major mistake.

We always tell people to blow before they bleed. But why exactly is “Do Not Blow” bad advice? There are a handful of reasons you should blow before you bleed, but here are the heavy hitters:

  • Blood alcohol level rises over time. In other words, you could become more intoxicated the longer you wait. If you refuse the breathalyzer and submit to a test that takes longer to process, you could end up with a higher BAC level.
  • Breathalyzers can be faulty. To be accurate, breathalyzers require regular maintenance and upkeep — something many police officers have been known to skip. If you choose to take the breathalyzer, lack of maintenance could be a defense tactic later down the line.
  • Jurors believe blood tests are more accurate. Whether or not a blood test is more accurate than a breathalyzer doesn’t matter. What does matter is what the jurors believe if your DWI case goes to trial. Experience tells us that jurors typically believe in the accuracy of blood tests and unless there were technical processing issues, it’s hard to prove otherwise.

If you weren’t sure what to do when pulled over, Thiessen Law Firm is here to help.

Knowing what to do when pulled over by the police might not save you from a trip to jail for drinking and driving, but it will help your DWI lawyer fight for your rights. Remain calm, keep your mouth shut, and tell them you want to call your Houston DWI attorney at Thiessen Law Firm.

Thiessen Law Firm is home to Mark Thiessen, a triple board-certified DWI specialist who has won over 100 Not Guilty verdicts and thousands of dismissals for his clients. He’s the man you want in your corner when you’re fighting a DWI charge.

Let Mark Thiessen and the DWI mavericks at Thiessen Law Firm fight for you. Call us today at (713) 864-9000 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.