What to Do When You Get Pulled Over by the Police

by Scott G

dealing with law enforcement

DISCLAIMER: I am not an attorney (I’m not a liar), so what I’m telling you is based on my best understanding of the law and experience. For legal advice, you must see an attorney (although they don’t always know what they’re talking about – you may need a second opinion).

Speaking as a former law enforcement officer, the one thing we are always on guard against is for anyone armed with anything that can be used as a weapon, be it a knife, blunt instrument or a firearm. That said, without question, no person, let alone a law enforcement officer has anything to fear from an armed, responsible, person.

The mindset of a law enforcement officer is that anyone, not a law enforcement officer or his/her spouse or personal friend is a potential threat. The reason for this is that a law enforcement officer has a target on his body. Anyone, no matter how seemingly innocent, can snap and turn on you. A couple weeks ago, in Portland, CT, two boys ages 7 and 11 tried to carjack and rob a woman at gunpoint. In September, in D.C., a group of boys ages 7-14 were panhandling and when a man said go away, one boy pulled a gun and fired it at the victim. During August, in Abilene, TX, a 91-year-old man was convicted of armed robbery.

I could go on and on, but the point is that in the eyes of a law enforcement officer anyone not in a uniform is a potential aggressor. A cop looks at everyone the same way, looking for any signs that fit certain profiles. Cops are big on body language and the better ones also listen to their gut. A potential suspect does subtle and not so subtle things that send up alarm signals. Things like constantly looking around in a certain manner or their way of dressing.

So many people (whining liberals specifically) scream that LEO’s only profile certain races. This is largely a pile of male bovine fecal matter (I don’t swear, so figure it out). Most cops are not racists, they simply hate criminals. I once had a member of a minority race (not black) accuse me of being prejudiced. I told him, “That’s not true. I hate everybody.” The fact of the matter is that LEO’s target people who have a propensity to commit crime. It doesn’t matter the race of the person, it only matters if the suspect fits a certain profile that in the experience of the LEO, falls within a certain criminal profile.

LEO’s know that a legally armed citizen (LAC) doesn’t wear his pants with the crotch dragging on the ground. His hat isn’t on sideways and his underwear doesn’t show. The LAC doesn’t keep his weapon stuffed behind his waistband but in a good holster. The vast majority of felons simply do not use a holster. Studies have shown that LAC’s use the same types of holsters as a LEO. Also, LAC’s usually wear the same style clothes and accessories as cops. Also, LEO’s know that the vast majority of LAC’s are pro-law enforcement and would come to their aid in a heartbeat.

A person illegally carrying a weapon will always give off obvious and subtle clues in the presence of a cop. Things that a law enforcement officer are looking for are gang-style clothing, aggression, challenging and belligerent behavior, looking away or avoiding the LEO altogether. The suspect will be evasive in his answers, fidgeting and nervous, has his hands on hips, arms folded, scowling, etc. The LAC usually does not put off these clues. Yeah, they will be anxious, but the majority of people are anxious when stopped by a cop. This is expected. Good behavior or demeanor is an intuitive characteristic. It is highly difficult to fake. You either have it or you don’t.

However, because everyone not in a uniform is a potential threat, even an off-duty LEO, they are often suspected to be an aggressor and proned out until identification can be made. This is also the case even when a LAC has a suspect at gunpoint, has informed the police and is waiting for a law enforcement officer to arrive.

There are a number of things you can do to alleviate the stress on both you and the LEO:

1. Be polite and respectful. Politeness and respect will get you a long way. In fact, sometimes it will get you out of a ticket (at least with me it did). Many criminals get nabbed during a traffic stop because they were an ignoramus toward the LEO.

2. Do not be aggressive or challenging. This will immediately send up red flags in the mind of a law enforcement officer. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a law enforcement officer believes you did something to warrant being stopped. If you did something wrong, you don’t have to admit to it, but don’t carry on as if you are innocent. If you don’t think you did something wrong, try to politely explain why you didn’t do what you are accused of. If that doesn’t work, take it to court.

3. Answer his questions honestly. If he wants to know what you were doing driving at 2 AM, tell him. Don’t lie because most people are lousy liars and a law enforcement officer will spot this. Do not sit there and argue. The LEO will dig deeper to understand your aggression. Most likely, he will ask you to get out of your car and then search you. This is legal. He also will probably ask to search your car. You don’t have to consent to this search, but then he might call in a K-9 unit to sniff your car. Personally, I would not consent to any search of my vehicle no matter the circumstances. It’s usually a fishing expedition.

Most people who are stopped by LEO’s comply with orders and answer questions willingly.

4. Don’t refuse to sign a ticket or identify yourself. SCOTUS has opined that while you are not required to carry identification, you are required to ID yourself. If you lie about it, that’s a crime and at the least, you will be detained until your true identity is verified. More often than not, you will be arrested and jailed.

5. Don’t act like a lawyer. LEO’s have a very low opinion of lawyers. One of my favorite jokes is:

What’s the difference between a lawyer and a catfish?

One’s a scum sucking, bottom feeding scavenger and the other one’s a fish.

Don’t start spouting the law even if you are a lawyer. It will not get you anywhere. It will irritate the LEO and guarantee you at least a ticket and probably a deeper check into your background. Not all LEO’s are fully in tune with the law, but most are. If you come up against one like I was, he will know the law forwards and backward.

Quite often, even if he’s wrong and it’s something minor, simply agree with him then take it up with his supervisor and chain of command at a later time.

Matt. 5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.

6. No sudden moves. Don’t get out of your car. Stay put. Don’t reach under your seat and don’t open your glove box. If you are armed, tell the LEO immediately. Some states require you to immediately notify a law enforcement officer if you are packing. Know the laws of your state. Personally, I’d do it no matter what. A criminal will not do this. If you are stopped while driving, keep your hands on the steering wheel.

When reaching for your wallet, if your weapon is on your hip, let him know where it is and that you are getting out your wallet. He may stop you, he may not. It depends on the LEO. Some of them will ask to see your weapon and verify that it’s not stolen. Usually, only a rookie who doesn’t know any better will do this.

7. Follow all commands. Simply put, do what you’re told. A law enforcement officer doesn’t want to hurt you or for you to get hurt. If you argue or hesitate, you are begging for trouble.

Doing the above things will demonstrate to the LEO that you are cooperative and are not a threat. Remember, a law enforcement officers main goal is to go home in the same condition in which he went to work.

For more information, refer here: http://www.policeone.com/police-products/firearms/articles/2144601-Dealing-with-citizens-legally-carrying-a-concealed-weapon/ and http://www.legallyarmed.com/.

Now, on to if the worst happens.

If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an incident involving the use of deadly force, be prepared to be treated with suspicion unless it is obvious that you had no other choice but to defend yourself. This brings up the issue of whether or not you should talk to the police or invoke your rights. Simply put, it depends on the circumstances surrounding the incident.

If you are forced into shooting someone, I’m assuming that you are justified in your use of force (UOF). In our society, UOF must be reasonable based on the totality of the circumstances. I’m a pretty big dude. At 6’1” and well over 200 pounds, I would not be justified in shooting an unarmed assailant who was 5’8” and 160 pounds. However, a 5’6”, 130-pound woman would be justified in shooting me. Also, it depends on the law of your particular state.

Some bleeding heart states require you to retreat if possible from an aggressor, even in your own home. Some laws allow you to use deadly force in your own home only if the person is armed or otherwise able to harm you. My favorite states are those with the “Castle Doctrine.” In these states, you have no duty to retreat if you are in a place you are legally permitted to be.

So, if you do shoot someone and you decide to talk to the police, remember this one thing: tell the police that you shot to stop the suspect. You never, ever tell them that you shot to kill. In the eyes of most pshrinkologists, this makes you a dangerous, unstable person. You tell the police that you stopped shooting when your attacker was no longer a threat. This is nothing more than legal mumbo jumbo, but it is very important mumbo jumbo. It will keep you out of court.

Tell the officers that because of the threat, you were in fear of your life or the life of another person. Explain why you were in fear of your life, i.e., “It was dark; I didn’t know the person; my family was in the other room; he kept advancing on me,” etc. Let them know if you warned the suspect or if you attempted to retreat. Tell them everything. Do not lie. A law enforcement officer can smell a lie a mile away.

Be able to articulate the threat that made you feel that you had no other recourse but to use deadly force. If the suspect had something in his hand that made you believe it was capable of being used as a weapon, be able to describe it and why you thought it was a weapon. I.E., it was a shiny object that appeared to be a knife or a pipe, or a gun, etc.

Whatever you do, do not disturb the crime scene. Don’t move the body or remove anything from the room. The detectives are very, very good at reading a crime scene. A homicide detective is usually very experienced and if something is out of place, he will eventually discover it. If your story doesn’t match the scene, it will eventually be discovered. Maybe not right away, but sooner or later and you will be put to the Inquisition.

As to whether or not you should invoke your rights that depends on the circumstances. By law, if a law enforcement officer believes that you have committed a criminal act, he must advise you of your Constitutional rights. When you are being questioned after a shooting, the LEO will be asking questions to determine what happened. At this point, he is not required to advise you of your rights, but if you say something obviously incriminating, then he should read you your rights. There are some exceptions to this and I don’t know all of the most recent rulings.

Remember, cops are devious when it comes to finding out the truth. After a shooting, you will probably be interviewed two or three times even if you aren’t suspected of doing anything wrong. If a law enforcement officer does suspect you of lying, his questioning will become sharper and certain questions will be rephrased and repeated to see if your story changes. This is a tactic used in court and interrogations. If this happens, you’re in for a long night.

My personal advice is if you think you may have done something wrong, invoke your rights and talk to an attorney. If it’s obvious that your shooting was righteous, then talk away, but with great feelings of remorse. While sadly shaking your head, make sure to express regret and that you were forced into defending yourself. Possibly ask for referrals for counseling and most importantly, do not show the satisfaction of knowing that you defended you and yours from the devil. You can do that later with your close friends.

I’m sure I haven’t covered everything, but you get the gist.

Remember, generally, local law enforcement is on your side. Most LEO’s are on the conservative side and believe in the 2nd Amendment. Most of them know that LAC’s are the good guys. However, there are bad apples in every barrel and there are exceptions to every rule. But as a general rule, the vast majority of LEO’s are honest and won’t screw you over. As for the feds…well, enough said.

Recommended Books:

And to add in some controversy to this article below are two of the most controversial videos that you’ll ever watch…


  1. A great article, the only issue I have is after the first 3 steps following a shooting. Stop talking and ask for council. This is for the officers safety and yours. It’s also been proved that your suggested approach regarding talking through 3 or 4 interviews often ends in arrest- here in arizona the #1 gun friendliest state I can list a half dozen people who follow your last advice and see arrested. One is still in prison…all for judicious uses of force. Namely because their story changed during the various interviews and your(chief/prosecutor) bosses chose to file charges leading to jury trials which as you well know are not your peers but the opposite.

    After a shooting,

    never talk after saying the following

    That sic., individual attacked me
    I want to press charges
    The evidence and witnesses are…point them out
    I will sign the complaint., based on location this is a legally accepted name
    I wish to speak with council/attorney

    This prevents potential issues as the rare side is not getting arrested at scene it is truly rare that an innocent person defending themselves using deadly force is NOT detained.

    Otherwise, great article and well penned

    • Jesse Mathewson,

      Correct. Personally, I would not talk to any police about anything without a lawyer. “Officer, I’d be happy to give you all a full statement after I talk to my lawyer and with said lawyer present during your questioning.: And then I’d shut up and say nothing else.

    • Jesse,
      I agree with your assessment of the article, especially the first interaction with a LEO. I’ve worked in classes with quite a few LEO’s and attorneys and they all say the same thing. Identify yourself, give a quick summation of the event, and then ask for counsel.
      Your summation should include that you were in fear for your life, which is a prerequisite for self defense using lethal force in all jurisdictions of which I’m aware.

      • TOP. How could I have forgotten…yes

        1. I want to press charges, i feared for my life

        Than 2 and 3 etc ,

        • Jesse & all,
          Also remember that in general terms, the first person to call 911 is the victim. If you are accosted and merely have to brandish a firearm to stop the threat, call 911 immediately and report the incident. Failing to do so means that the perp calls 911 and tells them someone at your location and description, just pulled a gun on him, in which case you may have some splainin’ to do

    • Jesse, i agree with you, i think that the longer you talk the deeper you get yourself into trouble, even if you are innocent, . i think best thing is to just say i want an attorney. Anyway, you dont have to talk to them beyond the basic info, this is not Russia (at least not at this time) and they cant make you talk.

  2. Although I have had many “social” visits with LEO’s, I have not had any incidents where we were in conflict. If I got pulled over, I had it coming. The only home visit was a wrong address. I even have distant family members in the LEO community.

    The advise giving here is good; follow it. If you are wrong, don’t get an attitude that you should not be stopped/ticketed/detained because someone else wasn’t. If you are in the right, use the system to correct it.

    With the way our society has been going, everyone is a potential life-threatening situation. Don’t get mad because you are initially treated as a criminal. Put yourself in their position and act accordingly.

    I was recently stopped at 0430 for running a red light. Yep, I did because I got distracted (a caution light came on the dash at the wrong time). Yes, there were just one other car at the intersection, and it was stopped. Yes, there were probably about a dozen cars total moving in the area that morning. I was on my way to the church to cook for the men’s breakfast group and running a little late. By the time I looked up from the dash I was through the intersection and the light had changed. Guilty!

    The officer hit the lights, I pulled right over. He came up to the car. I had my info out and ready for him. He was pleasant and so was I. He asked where I was going, I answered him truthfully. He ran my info, came back, told me to have a good day, and sent me on my way without the ticket I’d just earned. I was happy not to get the ticket and we had a good laugh on me while cooking breakfast.

    I see a lot of people every day that commit minor traffic law violations, and get upset if you correct them. They especially like to direct their hostility at figures of authority. If you want them to come help you when you’re in trouble, don’t be a “problem child” when your not.

    • Jp, exactly! while I may not see a need for many things being done using police these days – I also see no valid reason to be rude for the sake of rude

  3. I don’t ever consent to searches of my vehicle. I have on occasion inquired upon what the officer expects to find upon execution of the search they’ve asked to perform. There is no law that says you must tell them about a concealed gun licensed legally and I don’t disclose unless they ask. My vehicles license and registration are kept on the visor so I don’t have to open any container to access my information. I’m always friendly and honest and keep my hands in plain view. Never had a problem.

    • Mrs. B , unfortunately you are legally mandated to state it being there in most states for instance in arizona if asked you must respond truthfully eg., firearm and or it is simply good practice be forthcoming. That said, for myself carry is literally like putting on pants…and the result is I forget to say anything because I simply do not consider it though when asked I respond in affirmative and always have my hands at 2 and 10 open with 10 hands holding license registration and insurance ,

      • Jesse,

        Same thing in Florida. You don’t have to tell the officer up front you’re packing, but if he/she asks you must give a truthful response. In Florida, your concealed weapons license is tied into your driver’s license and vehicle tag information in the law enforcement computer. So, if you have a CWL, count on getting asked.

        • Zulu, many here simply do not ask, as long as you are not being a total arsehead- that being said…I havent been pulled over in over 4 years now?

          • Jesse,

            True. The more of a jerk you are to the officer, the more likely unpleasant things will happen to you. As we used to say, I didn’t write the ticket. I just put the pen in his mouth and let him write it.

            I got stopped a few months ago doing something that is not illegal in Michigan, but apparently is here in Florida. Anyway, the officer was nice, I was nice, and in the end I got a warning. He was a rookie too, and I chatted with his FTO a little as well (she was nice). He did ask if I was packing (I was).

            An officer I worked with was in traffic court. His defendant was a real jerk. He was being borderline contemptuous with the judge too. He complained to the judge that the officer called him an “A**hole.” The judge asked Rich if that was true, and Rich admitted that it was. The judge, probably knowing what was coming, said that maybe Rich should apologize to the defendant. So Rich said, “I’m sorry you’re an a**hole.” The whole courtroom fell out, including the judge. That’s all the apology the jerk got too and he was found guilty and maxed out on the fine and costs. Don’t PO the judge either.

            • Zulu 3-6,

              I got stopped a few months ago doing something that is not illegal in Michigan, but apparently is here in Florida. Anyway, the officer was nice, I was nice, and in the end I got a warning.

              Years ago I was back in PA visiting family and did a right turn on red after stop, at which point a cruiser came out of nowhere. The officer informed me I had run a red light, and as I explained that I had come to a complete stop, it dawned on me that PA did not yet have the “Right turn on red (with caution) after stop”, and I mentioned that to the officer. He told me that PA was working on that change in the law; but, that I should remember to wait for the green light while in PA, and sent me on my way, with both of us kind of laughing at the incident.
              I’ve only ever had a few encounters with law enforcement, and all have been cordial. Being polite never hurts.

              • last week I picked up a co worker. Well she did not show up so after 15 minutes I lift. This was around 5 fifteen am. I left the donut shop and went to work. I forgot to turn my lights back on. The policeman turned on his lights and I turned mine on and pulled over before beffore he had a chance to turn around. He pulled beside me and I explained my mistake. He told me to have a nice day and I said you also officer and that was it.

                • Axelsteve,

                  Most cops know that stuff happens. Hell, it happened to me more than once in a scout car. 99% of the time a warning is all anyone will get if they are civil (and sober). In fact, if I flashed my headlamps at a car and the driver immediately turned his lamps on, that was the end of it as far as I was concerned. Sometimes, I flashed the spotlight. Most folks took the hint.

                  Occasionally, you might hear “Headlamps” over the police radio and you knew every cop on the frequency was checking his light switch. 🙂

    • Mrs. B,

      I don’t ever consent to searches of my vehicle. I have on occasion inquired upon what the officer expects to find upon execution of the search they’ve asked to perform.

      In 50 years of driving and traveling, I’ve never had an occasion for anyone to ask to search a vehicle,, so this has never been a problem.

      There is no law that says you must tell them about a concealed gun licensed legally and I don’t disclose unless they ask.

      This needs to be qualified for the jurisdiction where you are located. Here in Ohio you have a “duty to inform.” when you encounter a LEO in an official capacity. Standing behind a LEO in the line at the grocery does not count. Additionally, if you have a CHL and a vehicle is registered in your name, the license plate check will indicate the owner has a CHL; but, you only have to inform if you are carrying? Most of the time when you inform the officer you are carrying they either nod their head or ask where and what’s being carried. In one case a friend was stopped and did not inform, since he was not carrying. The officer noted that his check indicated a CHL, and the friend said he had the license; but, was not carrying. The LEO’s response was “Why the H*ll not?”, after which they had a calm chat.

      My vehicles license and registration are kept on the visor so I don’t have to open any container to access my information. I’m always friendly and honest and keep my hands in plain view. Never had a problem.

      We keep ours in our wallets and the few times I’ve been stopped, the license and registration are in my hands that are placed on the wheel @ 10 & 2 after rolling down the window. After dark, turning on the dome light is also a good thing to do.
      Most of the LEO’s I know will admit that their one main goal each day at work is to clock out at end of shift and go safely home to their families. I can’t blame them, and you never want to be in a position that threatens that from occurring.

  4. A while back I was driving the back roads of TN…at 7 mph over the speed limit. I came over a hill and a LEO was right there. As he burned a u-turn and followed me with lights on I knew I was about to get my 1st speeding ticket. I found a school driveway and pulled over and waited to get my ticket. The LEO came up saw me pulled over and he kept on going to pull over the car that was way in front of me!! He knew I was guilty and I knew I was guilty but he continued on for the faster car. As I pulled back onto the road and came upon the LEO I waved and he waved back. I guess it helps to have a TN Sheriffs Association Sticker on your car.

  5. Follow up to article and I believe to Jesse’s comment , I would suggest that anyone (possibly the writer too) could benefit from the reading of this book by Massad Ayoub : deadly force 2014


    • Cndnate. Could not agree more…I have also take his classes and highly recommend that as well – absolutely recommended real life works!

    • Cndnate & all,
      I haven’t read this updated version; but, have read the prior editions and agree that it contains good information.
      One other thing to consider, specifically for those who legally carry a firearm, is insurance that specifically covers a self defense encounter. Membership in the USCCA (United States Concealed Carry Association) or enrolling in the NRA “Carry Guard” gives you instant access to legal representation in the event of a defensive shooting. It covers the cost of the attorney who is on a list of attorneys’ skilled in such cases. You don’t want a real estate lawyer trying to represent you in a self defense shooting. Also, without the attorney availability you would need at least $5000.00 on hand for upfront costs.

  6. Honestly, it pains me greatly to see how your friendly neighbourhood cop has become the enemy. We stayed “out on the farm” and rarely encountered anyone but a hunter or the postal delivery person. My only negative encounter was just before I left the US for the Philippines. I had visited an older friend who was recovering from heart surgery. We must have hit a bord or other object on his road that punctured two tires in the same side of the vehicle. We were flat as we made it to the main road in my friend’s town. My youngest son, still a teen at the time, went across the road to a 24-hour gas/convenience store and called a tow company as we had only one spare. Well, before the tow truck arrived, the local gendarmes pulled in with one jumping out and giving my son the third degree as he crossed back from the store. I exited my vehicle which was running to keep us warm, as we waited. My intent was to go back an inform the ‘civil servants” that we were fine and a tow truck was on the way. The driver of the patrol car slammed it into reverse and burned rubber as if he was escaping from me. I took control of the situation when I ordered the second patrolmen to talk with me, not with my son. These two hotshots were looking for trouble. We did what we had to do and ONLY that. Trust me, the next morning the chief of police in that town got an earful Things have really changed since my Grandfather “pounded a beat” on the streets of Boston. PNP (Philippine National Police) and Manila cops, in particular, are noted as some of the toughest in the world. I can tell you I have had nothing but the very best of encounters with these folks and many, including a church pastor who doubles as a PNP Chaplin, are my friends. There is a whole different mindset to police work here. I guess we all miss “the good old days.”

    • Jack,

      There is a whole different mindset to police work here. I guess we all miss “the good old days.”

      I don’t know that the good old days are gone; but, it quite possibly depends on where you live. In our rural area the Sheriff and his deputies are all good people who patrol the county as true public servants.
      Back in the 1990’s when I was first teaching firearms classes we had a local sergeant who taught with us. He was kind of the odd guy who instigated the first highly successful bicycle patrols in his small town. He said that in his 15+ years he had seen three basic kinds of police recruits. There were those who always wanted to be a police officer and serve the public, which was the kind of officer he was. There was the guy who needed a job, and passed the civil service exam and with proper training made a pretty good officer; but, the third kind had been either the bully or the bullied all through school, and it was payback time. He said that this last kind of person would generally not last too long; but, could cause a bit of trouble until he was finally eliminated.

      • TOP, unfortunately in this day and age there are way too many of the third kind not only in LE but many other ‘service’ professions that used to be ‘revered’. I am the daughter of a retired LEO, and a former ER nurse, and have seen it from all sides.

        • Exactly Grammyprepper. The climate in the LE world has changed dramatically over the past 5 decades.

  7. This is a great post, to hear the LEO side of things. As others have mentioned, though, after giving an initial statement of just the facts, you need to ‘lawyer up’. There is a reason that LEO are given time after an ‘incident’ before a full questioning. Ayoub and others have written and advised that one needs time to ‘process’ an incident before being able to get their story ‘straight’, due to the psychological and emotional trauma/stress. That said, in something as ‘minor’ as a traffic incident, just be nice. It will get you a lot further than being a boob.

  8. “Possibly ask for referrals for counseling ”

    NEVER ask a LE/cop agency for counseling referrals if you are being questioned after a certain type of incident….in this case a shooting. If you feel you need to talk to someone, call your personal physician and ask for a referral or your pastor. Everything you say is being noted (or recorded) and can be turned on you down the road.