Most traffic stops in New Jersey are routine: A police officer puts on the blue lights, and the driver of the other vehicle pulls over. The officer asks for the driver’s license and registration and, perhaps, issues a ticket or warning if a traffic law has been violated. Then, both parties simply go on their way.
However, sometimes, the interaction between the officer and the driver being stopped can quickly become contentious.
In order to avoid being involved in such a traffic stop and to stay safe in your interaction with a police officer, it is important that you understand your legal rights and your responsibilities.
If you are pulled over by a police officer in New Jersey, you must provide the officer with:
- Your name
- Your driver’s license
- Your vehicle registration information.
However, during a police stop you are not required to:
- Consent to a search of your vehicle
- Consent to a search of your person
- Answer any questions that may be incriminating. (In other words, you have the right to remain silent.)
While you have these rights, it is important that you exercise your rights in an appropriate fashion. Do not raise your voice, insult the police officer or object aggressively.
You should never show any intent to physically harm a police officer. You should also never make any sudden movements that could be interpreted as reaching for a weapon or attacking an officer.
Additionally, you have a right to record a traffic stop. However, be careful if you choose to do so. Waving a camera in a police officer’s face may cause tensions to flare and could be seen by an officer as an act of taunting.
The Most Important Rule When Dealing With Police: Stay Polite
Being polite is the foundation for a positive interaction with law enforcement. If a police officer stops your vehicle and approaches your window, you should remain calm, cordial and as professional as possible – even though it may be hard to do under the circumstances.
If you act polite, it can help to diffuse a potentially heated moment.
For example, if a police officer asks you to do something such as putting down your cell phone or stopping smoking, you should simply do so. Harry Houck, who is a retired New York police detective, told CNN that it is best that you comply for your own safety. After the situation is over you may then bring that information to your attorney or file a complaint about the officer.
If an officer asks you a question, you may wish to politely respond, “I choose not to answer that question.” If the officer asks for permission to search your car or your person, you could calmly say, “I do not consent to a search of my vehicle.” If you believe that you are being detained for an unreasonable amount of time, you can ask the officer, “Am I free to go?”
In short, to the best of your ability, try to control the tone of your interaction with the officer and keep the heat turned down as low as possible.
Above all, if you have been stopped by a police officer in New Jersey, then as soon as you are able to do so, contact a criminal defense attorney who will work hard to protect your rights and seek the best possible outcome in your case.