What To Do if you're stopped by police while in your car

A Police Officer may stop your vehicle if they observe a traffic or equipment violation. They may also stop your vehicle for several other reasons such as your vehicle may match one used in a crime, the Officer may want to warn you about a potentially dangerous situation, or the Police Officer thinks you may need help or may have witnessed a crime. These are some of the reasons (but not all) an Officer may stop you:

  1. As soon as you notice the Police emergency lights, immediately pull your vehicle over to the right and stop.
    1. Although you might not know the reason, you should pull over right away.
    2. You may have committed some minor traffic violation without realizing it.
    3. There may be some problem with your vehicle of which you are unaware.

  2. Remain in your vehicle while the Officer approaches.
    1. Do not attempt to get out of your vehicle or approach the Officer.
    2. Exiting your vehicle does not assist the Officer and may be perceived as a threat.
    3. For the Officer's safety and yours, remain in the vehicle.

  3. Turn on your interior light if stopped at night. A lit vehicle cabin will reduce the Officer's concern regarding weapons or other possible threats within your reach.

  4. Keep your hands easily observable (preferably on the steering wheel) where the approaching Officer can easily see them. Reaching under your seat or into your glove box are actions that will cause the Officer concern that you may be reaching for a weapon.

  5. Give your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance to the Officer if asked to do so. TIP: If any of these documents are out of reach, please tell the Officer where they are located before you reach for them. Georgia law requires you to display this information at the request of an Officer. Most Officers will not provide a specific reason for the stop until they have received your license and insurance. This is to avoid debating the reason for the stop prior to acquiring this necessary information.

  6. Avoid giving the Officer an excuse to search your vehicle. An Officer who observes you trying to either hide something under the seat or throw something out of the window may legally search your car. If the Officer reasonably suspects you are involved in a criminal activity, he or she can also perform a "pat down". If the Officer has probable cause (a reasonable belief that you or your passengers are involved in a criminal activity), he or she can search your car and objects that belong to passengers.

  7. Once you are stopped, an Officer may seize any illegal objects in your car that are "in plain view."

Frequently Asked Questions

There are many reasons a Police Officer may approach you on the street including:

  • You may be one of only a few people walking around in the vicinity of where a crime has just occurred.
  • You might appear to be similar or identical to the person that committed a crime.
  • Someone may have called the Police complaining that you look "suspicious."
  • A witness may have pointed you out to the Police Officer.
  • You may be acting in a manner that the Police Officer considers "suspicious."

This is certainly not a list of all the reasons you may be stopped; however, even though the delay might be inconvenient, the Police Officer believes there is a reasonable suspicion to stop you and ask questions.

You can take a few steps to remain calm and cooperative with the Police Officer including the following:

  • Avoid making sudden movements. Inform the officer of your intentions prior to moving and wait for the officer's approval to do so.
  • Do not carry weapons such as a gun or knife. Whether it is real or fake, do not even joke about having a weapon on your person.
  • Avoid touching the Officer. Stay three or more feet from the Officer.
  • Do not argue with the Officer. The Officer has a right to have you identify yourself. Thereafter, you have the right against making a statement which may incriminate you. Do not play lawyer when stopped by an Officer. You will probably only upset him or her which will increase your chances of being arrested.
  • Comply with the Officer's request for identification information. You have the right against self-incrimination. If you are being placed under arrest, exercise your right to have an attorney.

Yes. The Police can stop a person and ask questions without "arresting" the person. Upon seeing suspicious activity, the Police may perform what is called a "Terry Stop" and may temporarily detain people to request that they identify themselves and to question them about the suspicious activity.

No. You can refuse the Police permission to conduct a search. Remember, though, that the only reason the Police Officer wants to perform a search is for evidence of criminal activity.
For most misdemeanor offenses, a Police Officer may make an arrest if the offense is committed in the Officer's presence. However, for a felony offense, a Police Officer can only arrest people based upon witness statements or with a warrant.