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Pulled Over by a Police Officer – What You Should Do


Seeing the flashing red and blue lights of a police vehicle can be a traumatic and stressful event. Your heart may begin to pound and you become flustered. It is important, in this moment, to take a deep breath and stay calm.

When You First See the Police Car Attempting to Pull You Over

If a police car has its siren blaring and/or lights flashing, you should pull over as soon as reasonably possible (exercising the necessary caution to prevent an accident or injury). Pulling over is not an admission of guilt. It just means that you were alert to everything that was happening around you. Once you have pulled over, turn off your engine and roll down your window all the way.

Do not begin going through your back pocket for your wallet and license or in your glove compartment for your registration. Wait until the officer asks you for that information. Why? Because if the officer is approaching your vehicle, the sight of you grabbing an unseen item could give them probable cause to pull their weapon.

Vehicle Search

As a general rule, police officers are not allowed to conduct a search of your vehicle if you were pulled over for a routine traffic stop. Nevertheless, there are multiple exceptions where an officer may be able to conduct a search, if they have sufficient probable cause. For example, if there is an incriminating item that is in plain view like an open beer bottle or joint, the officer would have probable cause to conduct a more extensive search of your vehicle.

If you are placed under arrest and your vehicle is towed to the impound lot, police also have the right to conduct an inventory search, even if there is no evidence of contraband or other illegal materials in your vehicle.

Getting Out of Your Car

A police officer who stops you for an alleged traffic violation has the right to ask you and any passengers to get out of the vehicle. When you get out of your vehicle, do so slowly and ensure that the officer can see your hands at all times.

If the officer reasonably suspects that you might be carrying a weapon, narcotics, or other contraband, they have the right to conduct a quick “pat-down” search of your outer clothing, according to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U.S. 323 (2009). If an officer discovers a weapon or contraband, they have the right to seize those items.

Cell Phone Generally Not Searchable

If a police officer asks to search your cellphone, you may politely decline. Generally, police officers are prohibited from searching the contents of your cell phone without a warrant.

Breathalyzer Test

If you were pulled over on suspected drunk driving, do you have to take a Breathalyzer test? The answer is generally no, but refusing a Breathalyzer test may carry significant consequences. For example, whether you are convicted of a DWI or not, refusing to take a Breathalyzer test may result in enhanced penalties against your driver’s license.  In Florida, a second refusal is a separate criminal offense.  However, in 2011, the Florida Supreme Court held that a person’s driver’s license could not be suspended for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test if the underlying arrest was unlawful. This means if you were stopped without reasonable suspicion or if your arrest was made without probable cause, the decision to refuse to submit to a Breathalyzer cannot be used against you.

Speak to Experienced Winter Park Criminal Defense Attorneys

To secure the strong defense you deserve, contact the law firm of Cotter & Zelman, P.A. in Winter Park today. Our team of attorneys defends clients against a wide range of criminal charges, including DUIs. Call our office to schedule a consultation.


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