Pulled Over by the Cops? Here’s What You Do
No matter who you are, or what you've done, how you behave and what you do at the roadside can have a big effect on you and your licence
No matter what you’ve done (and no matter what they say you’ve done) you must pass the attitude test. That means: Be polite and respectful (“Good morning/afternoon/evening officer. How are you?”) No jokes. No sarcasm. Don’t say: “Can’t you see I’m on the phone here?” or “How about we just wait until your father gets here, and we’ll let the grown-ups decide?” or ‘Wow – is that a real gun? Can I hold it?” Also, no jokes about the real criminals all being on holiday this evening. Know what I mean?
No matter what is said or alleged by the officer(s) be polite and (very important) non-threatening. The cops are quite used to dealing effectively with scumbags – don’t become one, because things go downhill rapidly for you if you do. The police have significant discretionary powers.
And in fairness, being a copper can be a pretty shitty job. You have no way of knowing how many hours/minutes/days it’s been before he’s had to attend a fatal crash and then knock on the next of kin’s door and deliver the bad news.
DON’T ADMIT ANYTING
Even if you did it, there’s no legal compulsion to confess. And if you’re stopped at the roadside by a highway patrol car, bear in mind that you might be filmed and the conversation might be recorded. If you make an admission – even as a joke – you could easily sink yourself later, in court.
Here’s an example:
Police officer: “Do you know why I’ve pulled you over, driver?”
Police officer: “Do you know how fast you were going?”
Driver: “About 75km/h?”
If you’re in a 60 zone, that’s it. You’re toast. The police prosecutor wheels out the video in court, and there’s you admitting you were driving at what you thought was about 75km/h.
So, be polite, but you don’t have to dig your own grave, hop in it, and help the system pull the trigger.
If you did it, don’t make any admission. Don’t admit it. Not even a little bit. See, the police will compile the evidence – statements, CCTV footage, their own camera footage, whatever. If there’s a problem with any of that, there’s a problem with their case – not having evidence beyond reasonable doubt is a big problem for them, procedurally. It means: you get off.
However, if you also admit the offence, that’s all they need. This is why the cops always try to get you to admit it. It’s also why you never should do so. Never. Absolutely never. You don’t have to deny it – but you should never admit it.
However, if you didn’t do it. Deny it. But don’t get wrapped up in a conversation. If the cops allege you drove through a red light (this happened to me) and you didn’t do it – you need to deny it.
Police officer: “You just drove through a red light.”
Police officer: “Just at the top of the hill, over the crest.”
Me: “No, officer, I didn’t. The light was green.”
Police officer: “You did. It was red. We both saw it.”
Me: “With all due respect, officer, I didn’t. I don’t want to argue with you at the roadside, but I’m not going to admit to something I didn’t do. I’m not going to make any other statement in relation to this interview.”
(This is after all the ‘good mornings’ and handing over my licence and confirming that the car is registered.)
Police officer: “Are you trying to be smart?”
Me: “No officer. I think you’re mistaken. But this isn’t the time or the place to debate it. If you write me a ticket we’ll sort it out in court.”
At this point the police officer issued me with a caution to “drive more carefully in future”, to which I said: “sure”. I also thanked him for his time, and I waited for him to leave first (important, in case you forget to indicate upon pulling away, of commit some other minor infringement because you’re highly stressed).
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating was accused of exactly the same thing – he went to court over it. It was the officer’s word against his. In this scenario, it’s not an each-way bet. This is because you are innocent until proven guilty. In other words, you don’t have to prove you didn’t do it; they have to prove you did. So, unless you cave in an admit it, in the absence of any other evidence (CCTV, still image, cop-car camera, recorded audio of you confessing, etc) they fail.
Good for you.
A NOTEWORTHY EXPERIENCE
Gather your own evidence. Whip out your smart phone and photograph the scene. (The cops cannot compel you not to do this. It’s happening in a public place; it’s fair game.) If they’re breaking the rules, it could later help your case – and it’s entirely reasonable for you to gather evidence on your own behalf. Note the police officer’s name and/or number, photograph the registration plate of the cop car (and any witnesses or involved cars if you are in a crash). If the police officer asks you what you think you’re doing, tell them you’re gathering evidence to substantiate what happened in case you need to rely on it later. Take wide-view shots of the scene from a few different vantage points and also closeups of relevant items (such as number plates of witnesses, and cars involved).
You can also video the scene – but see my warning about that below.
When the cops leave, either whip out your smart phone (or, old fashioned, I know) a notepad and make notes of exactly what happened. In other words, the facts – the who, what, when, where, etc. Try to remember exactly what was said, by whom and when. Write down the actual words as you remember them, not a summary.
Then, e-mail them to yourself, along with all the pictures you took. Use a cloud-based mail platform like Gmail, which ensures your evidence won’t ever get lost. (E-mailing it to yourself also establishes the time you did it, which is important. So-called ‘contemporaneous notes’ – made at the time of the event or soon after – have high evidentiary value in court.) If your smart phone was GPS it will also log the time and the place the shots were taken, which is also good for evidentiary value.
HOW NOT TO BECOME A CRIMINAL WITH YOUR SMART PHONE
Here’s an important warning – smart phones are capable of recording conversations covertly. In most Australian states it is a criminal offence to do so, unless the other party to the conversation is aware they are being recorded. Just recording the conversation between two people where there’s a presumption of privacy is a crime. Take contemporaneous notes instead.
After all this, if you’re handed an infringement notice, thank the officer politely, let them drive off first, even if it’s something of a wait for you. Then contact your solicitor for advice about defending yourself in court.