Slow Down for Red, Green (and Blue) Lights this Holiday

We are now in the midst of the holiday season, which brings thoughts of hot cocoa, mistletoe and . . . traffic tickets? That’s right. Police officers are out in force during the year-end holiday season issuing traffic citations for speeding, following too closely, running stop signs, and more serious violations of the rules of the road. Don’t let your holiday be ruined by a traffic stop gone bad.  Here are some things to remember as you drive to grandma’s house this season.

Slow down and don’t weave.

This may seem like common sense, but what you may not know is that speeding and weaving between driving lanes are the primary minor violations that authorize police officers to pull you over in the first instance if they suspect you are driving while under the influence (DUI) of an impairing substance. In order to stop an automobile, police officers must have “reasonable and articulable suspicion” that the driver committed a violation of the traffic laws. The most common violations are speeding or weaving, which gives officers a reason to pull you over. Don’t give them a reason to pull you over in the first place.

If you are pulled over.

First, be respectful when speaking with the officer.  Police officers are public servants who are responsible for keeping our roads, schools and neighborhoods safe.  Just like lawyers, police officers have a job to do.  While it may be aggravating, annoying or frustrating to receive a traffic citation, you should understand that police officers are simply doing their job, and that you have constitutional rights to appear in court and defend yourself against the charges.  So, if you do get stopped, remember to keep your cool.  It will make this unfortunate situation go a little smoother.

Second, choose your words wisely. The first question the officer will likely ask you is, “Do you know why I stopped you?” While this is a fair question, it very clearly has one goal: to get you to admit you violated the law. This is especially true in cases where the officer suspects you are driving under the influence of an impairing substance. The more you talk, the more incriminating evidence you are likely to provide. Everyone knows that (1) a defendant is innocent until proven guilty; (2) the State has the burden of proving a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) a defendant has the right to remain silent. Most defendants unknowingly waive the third right by talking to officers, admitting their guilt or trying to “explain away” their guilt, which has the effect of proving the State’s case for them!

Don’t fall into this trap. When speaking with the officer, be respectful, but do not under any circumstances admit your guilt.

Be responsible.

The best way to avoid these issues altogether is to simply be responsible. Don’t speed, especially in school zones where the penalties are higher. If you consume alcohol—whether at a holiday office party or at a bar/restaurant while watching football games—don’t drive. Period. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. It isn’t worth the risk to your own safety and the safety of others.

Have a safe and happy holiday and, if you find yourself in need of legal advice or help, give us a call. We promise to do our best to turn your lump of coal into a sugar plum.