Posted on March 1, 2023 at 11:26 AM by The Biker Lawyers
If you’re being pulled over, always activate the video on your phone, and record the entire stop. It’s important to be prepared for this. If you don’t shoot video and it comes down to your word against the police, you’re almost always going to lose.
Safely Mount Your Cell Phone
You should have a phone mount on your motorcycle's handlebars or in your car (vent mounts work well). These cost less than $15.00 and can be found on Amazon among other places. You want the phone and your hands to be clearly visible to the police as they approach your vehicle.
This is why the phone mount is so important. Know how to quickly set your phone to record video, so you don’t have to fumble around if you get stopped. You do not want an approaching police officer to see you reaching into a jacket pocket, as this could cause the situation to escalate quickly.
Get Mobile Justice by the ACLU
A great app to have on the start-up screen of your phone is “Mobile Justice” provided by the American Civil Liberties Union. With Mobile Justice, even if your phone gets lost or destroyed, your video will have been sent to ACLU, and you can retrieve it later.
You can download the Mobile Justice app for iOS here or download it here in the Google Play store.
The Right Judgment Call
When a police officer stops you, the first thing you need to do is make a judgment call on whether you're in a situation where if you behave a certain way, you may well get a break. Alternatively, if you don't think that's going to happen, you may need to go into immediate protect yourself mode. We have two different potential scenarios here: friendly cop and unfriendly cop. The friendly cop may let you off with a warning. The unfriendly one, well… that’s what this article is all about.
Watch Out for Conversation-Style Questions
An officer may come off as very friendly, but when they start asking questions like,
- Where have you been?
- Where are you going?
- Have you been drinking?
Be warned, these are questions that are more along the line of fishing for something else to charge you with. That's when it's time to go on alert because you do not have to sit there and answer just any questions that a law enforcement officer might ask if it's a legitimate traffic stop.
What Can Police Commonly Ask to See?
In a routine traffic stop, Law Enforcement Officers have a right to see your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance, and they really don't have a right beyond any of those things.
Stick to Your Guns
If an officer starts asking questions about your life and what's happening, you should stick to the response: "I'm sorry, sir, I don't answer questions."
Stay respectful, remain calm and monotone, and this should be your response all the way in and out. If they command you to do things, like get out of the car, you'll need to look at them and say, "Sir, is that a request or a command?"
If it's a command, you must get out and do it, even if they're wrong and don't have the authority to make you do so. However, let’s back up to the start of this stop: hopefully, you've had the foresight to turn on a video camera such as the one your phone comes with because if they command you to turn off your camera the jury will look at them not favorably. By the time that gets in front of a jury, if it even gets that far, the prosecutor is not likely to bring that case.
When Can You Go?
You may be wondering if there is a scenario where you get let go, or how long before you should be let go.
The Iowa Supreme Court has been very clear: a routine traffic stop should take at most 10 minutes. If you are following protocol, not letting the officer wander into other territories by answering the questions of “where are you coming from?” or “where have you been?” or “what have you been drinking?” with, "I don't answer questions," you are shutting it down and the cops have to conclude their business within 10 minutes.
If they don't, chances are pretty strong that any charge they bring will never see the light of day.
Red Flags to Watch Out For
What are the biggest red flags in drivers need to watch out for?
Can Cops Inspect Your Cooler?
If a cop stops you and it's a routine traffic stop, the biggest red flag to watch out for is when they ask to search your cooler.
Your answer should be clear: "I do not consent." If they command you, let them do it, but if they command you, then they're never going to be able to bring charges out of it anyway.
They don't have a right to search you, your vehicle, or your motorcycle saddlebags without your consent unless they've got probable cause.
If there is something visible in your car, such as beer cans on the floor, the police have the right to inspect further. If there is no visible evidence of a crime, however, the police do not have the right to inspect your car.
A cooler on the back seat could be filled with apple juice. You do not have to allow an inspection of the cooler as long as there is no evidence of a crime. This is a prime example of when you should say “I don’t answer questions” if asked what’s in the cooler.
Further, if the police ask to look inside the cooler, you should say “I do not consent.” If they tell you to open the cooler, you should ask “is that a request or a command.” If they tell you it’s a request, then just repeat “I do not consent.” If they tell you it’s a command, then you let them inspect. Even if they find beer in the cooler, it would likely never be allowed in evidence.
Cell Phone Inspection
It's against the law to text and drive in 48 states. Yes, Iowa is one of them. That said, it's hard to prove you were texting so if an officer asks you to unlock your phone or to see your phone so they can see your text messages, you should follow the same steps as if the officer asked to look in your cooler. First, firmly but politely state "I do not consent." If the officer persists, ask "Is that a request or a command?" If they tell you it’s a request, then just repeat “I do not consent.” If they tell you it’s a command, then do as they've asked.
Understanding Your Rights During an Arrest
If you find yourself in the back of a cop car, be sure to say “I don’t answer questions” and contact an attorney as soon as you can.
It is important to know that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. If you are arrested, you should contact a lawyer immediately and not answer any questions until you have legal representation.
Additionally, it is important to know that you have the right to refuse certain tests, such as a breathalyzer, which could be used against you in court. Finally, it is important to remember that you have the right to challenge the legality of an arrest or search, and an attorney can help you do this.
What to do if You Believe Your Rights Have Been Violated
If you feel that your rights have been violated, you should contact the local police department and/or the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Additionally, it is important to understand that some states (excluding Iowa) have "Stop and Identify" laws that require individuals to provide their name and address to a law enforcement officer.
Knowing what your rights are and understanding the laws in your state can help you protect yourself during a traffic stop.
Top 5 Traffic Stop Tips and Takeaways:
1. Consenting to a search: It's important to note that if you do consent to a search, anything the officer finds can be used against you in court. It's always a good idea to say "I do not consent" if an officer asks to search your vehicle.
2. Recording the interaction: In Iowa, it's legal to record police officers in public spaces as long as you're not interfering with their duties. If you choose to record the interaction, be sure to let the officer know you're recording, but don't turn off your camera unless they command you to do so.
3. Filing a complaint: If you feel that your rights have been violated during a traffic stop, you can file a complaint with the police department or the ACLU. It's important to note the officer's badge number and the details of the interaction.
4. Stay calm: It's easy to get anxious or angry during a traffic stop, but it's important to remain calm and respectful. Getting combative or argumentative with an officer will only escalate the situation and potentially make things worse.
5. Remember the following:
- "I do not answer questions"
- "I do not consent"
- “Is that a request or a command?”
- "Am I free to go?"
Being stopped by a law enforcement officer can be an intimidating experience. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and ensure your rights are respected.
Remember that a routine traffic stop should not take more than 10 minutes, and you do not have to answer any questions beyond the basics. If a police officer requests to search your vehicle, be sure to say “I do not consent.” If they command you to do something, you must comply, even if they don’t have the legal authority to do so. Finally, if you find yourself in the back of a cop car, stick to the rule of “I don’t answer questions” and call an attorney as soon as you can.
If you find yourself in a legal situation or are injured in a traffic accident in the Midwest, feel free to reach out to the Biker Lawyers for a free consultation.
Until next time, speak truth to power.