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Traffic stops and criminal charges

You may have noticed when reading about criminal charges in news reports that they often include the seemingly mundane fact that the officer was speaking with the suspect during a traffic stop. Because they eventually were charged with a drug crime or some other criminal offense, you may forget about that part of the story.

You should not. This is because the Fourth Amendment's prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures are somewhat lessened when it comes to vehicles, and because it is one of the principal situations where individuals interact with law enforcement. 

Police can stop a driver upon "reasonable suspicion" of an offense, which typically takes the form of a traffic violation. Traffic violations are easily observed and an officer can often trail a car for a short distance, observe a turn without a signal, a burnt-out tail light, or driving above the posted speed to obtain that reasonable suspicion.

During a traffic stop, you should remain polite, answer the officer's question, but never offer more of an answer than necessary, and never argue with the officer. The more you say, the more likely the words can be taken out of context and used to damage your credibility.

And this story from Northern Florida suggests that you should never begin your conversation with an officer by making statements that could implicate you in a crime. Here, the man began by referring to "something being wrong with the money."

This is known as an incriminating statement, as indicates you know something about the status of some money, and to a jury could mean you knew it was fake when you gave it to the fast-food clerk.

If you are innocent, there is a danger that you could say something that could that could ultimately result in a wrongful conviction. If arrested, ask for an attorney and then remain silent. With the police, less is always more.

Nwfdailynews.com, "Man charged with using fake $100 bill at KFC," October 28, 2014

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