Legally Speaking: How Not to Handle a Traffic Stop
Plenty of lawyers who defend motorists accused of moving violations or driving while intoxicated have great advice on how you should conduct yourself during a traffic stop. I don't defend traffic tickets or DWI cases, so I'm afraid I can't really offer that kind of wisdom. But I have been a keen observer of the legal system for many years now, and some of the more bizarre cases I've seen have given me a pretty decent grasp of what not to do during a traffic stop. Rule No. 1 – Don't Be A Wiseguy Traffic stops are a classic example of how true the legal admonishment "what you say can and will be held against you in a court of law" really is. As much as you might think that a little humor might lighten the situation, try to avoid saying things like these to the police officer who pulls you over: "I can't reach my license unless you hold my beer;" "Aren't you the guy from The Village People?" "I thought you had to be in good physical shape to be a police officer;" "You can ignore those muffled screams coming from the trunk;" and "Wow, you look just like the guy in the photo on my girlfriend's night table." A little levity may seem like a good idea, but not if it leads to a full body cavity search. Rule No. 2 – Don't Blame A Rock Star William Liston was arrested on Christmas Eve 2010 in suburban Cleveland, Ohio, on suspicion of drunken driving. When the police pulled him over, the Ohio man told them "Ozzy Osbourne and his music made me do it." The attempt to blame the heavy metal artist was unsuccessful, however. Maybe Liston was simply being "Paranoid," or he thought he was on the "Road to Nowhere;" instead of driving, he might want to take the "Crazy Train" next time. Rule No. 3 – Don't Offer Up Sex to Get Out of the Ticket A number of police officers in multiple jurisdictions have been accused—some wrongly, others justifiably—of accepting sexual favors from motorists whom they've stopped. One recent one was former California Highway Patrol officer Abram Carabajal, who in October 2010 was sentenced to two years in prison for dismissing a speeding ticket in exchange for sex. The incident that led to the conviction for receiving a bribe involved a woman Officer Carabajal met at a motel for sex after agreeing to dismiss the speeding ticket, but during the trial several other women testified that Carabajal had offered to "work something out" during a traffic stop. Rule No. 4 – Don't Act Like a Drunken Supermodel On Oct. 26, 2010, 38-year-old driver Sheryl Urzedowski of Orland Park, Ill., was stopped on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol. But she apparently thought the field sobriety test was a fashion runway, because according to police she sashayed up and down the line with her hands on her hips, strutting like a model on a catwalk. She also offered to perform what the police report described as "a gymnastics maneuver." However, Ms. Urzedowski may not have helped her cause by repeatedly pleading with police officers to read her "the Amanda rights" (maybe this is a model's version of the Miranda rights). All to no avail—she was charged with driving under the influence, driving 26-30 mph over the posted speed limit, disregarding a traffic control device, following too closely, and improper lane usage. Rule No. 5 – Don't Ever Say "Don't You Know Who I Am" No matter who you are, it's rarely a good idea to ask a police officer "Don't you know who I am" during a traffic stop. It hasn't turned out well for countless celebrities, sports figures and politicians. It's especially bad for lawyers. Just ask Lisa Jones-Hall, who was days away from starting her job with the Linn County, Iowa, prosecutor's office when she was stopped by Marion, Iowa, police in July 15, 2010. As the police dash cam video shows, the officer asked Ms. Jones-Hall to sign a ticket for having her windows illegally tinted. Jones-Hall refused initially to sign the citation, called the officer names, and then said, "I start with the Linn County Prosecutor's office next Tuesday." After learning of the incident, the Linn County prosecutor's office decided not to hire Ms. Jones-Hall, after all. In June 2010, Seattle lawyer Anne Bremner was stopped by local police on suspicion of drunk driving (another motorist had reported her car driving with a flat tire). According to police reports, Bremner was "argumentative," "belligerent" and "obnoxious." Among other things, she purportedly said she was an attorney for the Seattle Police Department and that the officer would not "go far" in his law enforcement career; she said "I will sue your ass;" she claimed "I'm famous. It'll be bad for you guys;" she allegedly called another officer "a Nazi" and the "creepiest officer" she ever met; and also said "You can't arrest me. I represent Seattle and King County. You are making a mistake." The bravado gave way to pounding on the precinct holding cell door, screaming "Somebody help me" and crying hysterically, according to police. Later on, Bremner claimed to be suffering from a brain injury that made it appear as though she was impaired by alcohol. Ultimately, however, the 52-year-old attorney changed her mind and pleaded guilty to one count of drunken driving. Bremner actually was famous, in a way. She had frequently appeared as a legal analyst on several television networks, commenting on cases that included the notorious Amanda Knox murder trial in Italy. But as countless celebrities can attest, the spotlight feels very differently when the camera is recording a police dash cam video or taking a mugshot.