Being stopped by the police while driving and minding your own business can be frustrating, uncomfortable, and even frightening. The worst thing you can do is act in a way that puts yourself at unnecessary risk of a dangerous encounter, or that harms your rights to challenge the stop and the results of the stop in court. The side of the road is not the place to defend yourself. That should be done in court, with the assistance of a qualified North Carolina lawyer. If you are facing any charges as a result of a traffic stop, whether a speeding ticket or something more serious, you should consult a lawyer right away to evaluate what you are facing and how to minimize the costs and consequences for you.

Here is what you should do when you are pulled over by a law enforcement officer in North Carolina:

Stop your car.

As soon as you see those flashing blue lights behind you, you are legally obligated to pull over and stop your vehicle as quickly and as safely as possible. It is important to remain calm and look for the nearest place on the right to pull over away from traffic.

Turn everything off.

Turn off the engine, and anything else that could obstruct your communication with the officer. Most often that means your music.

Keep your hands in view.

You and any passengers should keep their hands visible at all times from the moment the car comes to a stop. Do not duck down, or start reaching and searching for anything. The officer may ask for your license and registration during the stop. Wait for him or her to do so. If you or your passengers start moving around the vehicle when the officer has his or her lights on, the officer can see and the situation could be escalated unnecessarily.

Stay inside the vehicle.

Do not get out unless the officer tells you. This applies for passengers too.

Lower your window.

As the officer approaches you should calmly lower your window so the officer can speak with you, and you can speak with the officer.

Tell the officer if you are a concealed carry permit holder, and you are armed.

If you are a concealed carry permit (CCW) holder and you are carrying your gun in the car during a traffic stop, you should tell the officer that you are are CCW permit holder and where you have your gun at the first opportunity after the officer begins to speak to you. If you fail to do so, it could result in revocation of your concealed carry permit. Even worse, it could cause the officer to see your gun by surprise during the stop, and that could result in a dangerous situation putting you at risk.

Comply with the officer’s commands.

If the officer tells you to move your car, move your car. If the officer tells you to get out, get out. If the officer tells you that you’re under arrest, then let yourself get arrested. The side of the road is not the place to argue or fight with the officer about why you were stopped, what your rights are, or why anything improper is happening. Your lawyer will do that in court. If you do it at the roadside, you could get charged with resisting arrest or worse. This does not mean you should agree to perform any tests, or provide any information other than your license and registration if the officer asks you for it. You have the right to respectfully and politely refuse to answer any questions, and you have the right to refuse any and all sobriety tests by the roadside. That means you don’t have to blow into the officer’s little gadget, you don’t have to walk a line, you don’t have to stand on one leg, and you don’t have to look back and forth into the officer’s flashlight.*** You should respectfully and politely refuse to do those things. Likewise, if the officer asks you if he or she can search the car, or look in the trunk, or search your person, you have the right to refuse your consent. If the officer demands your keys or demands that you open any part of the car or submit yourself to search, then you should say it is over your objection, and you do not consent. Do not ever give false information, argue, or fight with the officer though. You could get hurt, or arrested on charges you don’t need. Your lawyer can take steps to challenge any search that was improperly done over your objection, and may be able to prevent any evidence discovered from being used against you.

Do not leave until the officer says you can go.

Oftentimes, the officer will ask for your license and registration and then return to his or her car to reference the information in official computer records. Do not turn your engine on, get out of the car, or otherwise try to leave. Remember to keep your hands visible and that goes for passengers too. If the officer makes you get out of the car at any point, and you are unsure of whether you can leave (maybe you were just a passenger) then ask. Do not assume you can go, ever, without hearing it from the officer. It could put you at risk of being hurt or arrested.

If you have been stopped by the police and face resulting charges, whether a speeding ticket or something more serious, you should consult a qualified North Carolina lawyer about your rights and defenses. Do not assume it is no big deal or that a lawyer cannot help you because of what the officer found or saw. Even a seemingly minor speeding ticket can result in a significant fine and court costs, points on your driving record, loss of your license, and dramatically increased insurance costs for a long period of time. It is worth a free consultation with a lawyer to evaluate what you are facing and how they can help.

*** If the officer asks you to blow into the breathalyzer machine at the police station after being arrested, or in the mobile command unit during a DWI roadblock, that is different. Refusal to blow into that machine could lead to suspension of your license and should be carefully considered.

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