3 Most Important Statements: How to Handle a Traffic Stop

How to Handle a Traffic Stop in Virginia

Fairfax criminal lawyer

As a Virginia criminal lawyer, traffic attorney, and Fairfax criminal lawyer, I get this question all the time. It is not necessarily always asked this way, nor is it directly worded in the form of a question. But quite often, when I am teaching or meeting with an individual who faces a pending charge and it somehow involves a traffic stop, what I refer to in this post as, “the 3 most important statements to make if asked to exit your vehicle,” forms the basis of the discussion.

Before we get into the specifics, the reason why law enforcement officials can ask a driver to exit a vehicle vary, but generally it relates to suspicion of something. Unless there is some reason why the officer fears for your safety,  if asked to exit, you are likely suspected of violation of a criminal offense. After reading this post, we suggest you view the video we posted a few months ago covering why one should never talk to the police.

Also before we get into the three most important statements to make, a brief discussion about what one should do when initially pulled over is appropriate…

Priming the Officer: You are not a Threat

When you notice those flashing lights in your rear-view mirror, is there anything you can do to facilitate an overall positive outcome? Yes, there is. Think about it this way: if you were a police officer, what would be your number one concern? Police officers are humans like the rest of us, and their number one concern is for their own lives. So the initial steps to take when pulled over involve intelligent actions to put the officer at ease. By doing the following, you will put the officer at ease and improve the chances that he or she will treat you fairly and lawfully.

  • Turn off your vehicle’s engine. This shows you do not intend to speed off.
  • Turn on the lights if it is dark. This shows the officer that you do not have anything to hide.
  • Put your hands on the steering wheel. This puts the officer at ease and also mitigates the risk to your own life. If you are fiddling with a black leather wallet when the officer approaches, it would be terrible if it were to be mistaken for a weapon.

Doing these three things before the officer even makes it to your window will put him or her at ease and improve the chances of a successful interaction.

How to Respond:
“Do you know why I stopped you?”

Never say anything other than, NO. As a Fairfax and Virginia criminal lawyer, all too often I meet people who think they will be able to play the good-guy role and escape a traffic ticket or criminal charge if they simply get on the officer’s good side. This is a fallacy. The reason why the officer asks this question is because he or she wants you to make an incriminating statement that can later be used against you in the court of law. Do not say anything other than no, I do not know why I was stopped. This will not be used against you. Saying anything else very well may be used against you.

After this question, the typical officer will ask for your license, registration, and sometimes, proof of insurance. Simply tell the officer that you will open your glove-box (if that is where the documents are located), and that you will retrieve your license from your wallet, which is in your pocket (or wherever it is located), and then do so. By telling the officer that you are about to reach over into the glove-box or into your pocket so you can retrieve your wallet, you will eliminate the possibility that the officer could suspect you of reaching for a weapon. In some situations, the officer may ask you to step out of the vehicle. This triggers an entirely separate set of statements all drivers should memorize. Bookmark this post if you must, or print it out and keep it in your vehicle. The following statements are truly that important for you to remember.

When Asked to Exit the Vehicle:
3 Most Important Statements

  1. With all due respect, I do not consent to any voluntary search.
  2. Officer, am I detained? If I am detained as of this moment, I ask you to please tell me when I am free to go.
  3. Any questions you wish to ask me, I do not consent to without presence of legal counsel.

These three statements should be stated respectfully, yet firmly. The officer should know what each of these three statements prevents him or her from doing. If you are asked to open your trunk or some other container inside the vehicle, you should respectfully not consent. You may wish to tell the officer that you have already expressed your position as far as not consenting to a search, and that if the cop has probable cause, then a warrant should be obtained.

Remember: the more nervous you appear, the more likely it will be that the officer will think he or she can obtain a statement or information from you by pressuring you. Keep your composure, remain calm, and do not panic. As a local Fairfax criminal lawyer, I truly do not think anything good can come from trying to be an officer’s friend. This is not what they are paid to do.

If you are placed in handcuffs, do not think you are at a point where you need to start talking or confessing. Our Fairfax criminal lawyer and firm has known the police officers in Virginia to sometimes place a person in handcuffs with (what we believe to be) a goal to cause the person to talk and/or confess. Do not panic. Continue to state your rights: you do not consent to a search; and, you do not wish to answer any questions without a lawyer present. They must respect these wishes.

Remaining firm will help you and despite the frustrations you may cause the officer, no negative repercussion will result from stating your Constitutional rights. Even if you think you will be going to jail because you know something is in your vehicle that is illegal (or a warrant is out for your arrest), you will go to jail anyway, and talking will only hurt you. Please realize, we respect the authorities and those in uniform. But we respect the rights of the people more. While we would never suggest being rude or disrespectful, it is always wise to remain calm, firm, and respectful.

If you face a pending traffic or criminal charge in Northern Virginia, our Virginia criminal lawyer will talk to you at our Fairfax criminal lawyer‘s office or over the phone at 888.695.6565. If you prefer, you may contact the Vincenzes Law Firm online.

Image Credit:

“Stopped By A Police” by digidreamgrafix viafreedigialphotos.net

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Brenton D. Vincenzes is a lifelong Fairfax County resident and Fairfax Criminal Defense Lawyer. He is a member of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National College of DUI Defense, NORML, and has been awarded the following in 2014-15: Top 100 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Top 40 Under 40 Trial Lawyer (National Trial Lawyers) Nationally Ranked Top 10 Under 40 Defense Attorney (National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys) 10 Best in Client Satisfaction for Criminal Defense (American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys) Nationally Ranked Top 1% Attorney Award Recipient (National Association of Distinguished Counsel) As a local leader, Mr. Vincenzes mentors troubled youths, volunteers his time to serve at his church, takes select pro bono clients, and strives to improve the community. Mr. Vincenzes represents men, women, and juveniles through zealous and diligent advocacy, strategic planning, and skilled trial work preparation. Mr. Vincenzes' areas of criminal law practice are broad, and include most felonies and misdemeanors such as: reckless driving, DUI & DWI, drug offenses, assault and battery, domestic violence, assault on an officer, destruction of property, alcohol offenses, firearm offenses, larceny, shoplifting, embezzlement, fraud, and other theft offenses, and moving traffic violations among others. His private legal services are available in most Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, Arlington County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Stafford County, Alexandria, Manassas, Leesburg, South Riding, and other cities and towns.


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