Do You Have to Pull Over Even When You’ve Broken No Law? Police Interaction, Part VII

Do You Have to Pull Over Even When You’ve Broken No Law?  Police Interaction, Part VII

By Benjamin A. Tracy, Columbus Criminal Defense Lawyer and Civil Rights Attorney

This is the seventh part in a series of posts about what legal obligations you have when you interact with the police.

Situation 7

You are driving along the highway.  You’re driving at the speed limit.  You are in your lane and maintaining appropriate following distance.  In short, you are driving better than almost everyone else on the road.  Suddenly, you see red and blue lights in your rear-view mirror.  The police car behind you sounds its siren and the officer behind the wheel points toward the right-hand side of the road.

Do you have to pull over?

The BEST answer:  Yes.  You should come to a controlled stop at the first safe opportunity.

The CORRECT answer:  Yes.

The WRONG reaction:  I haven’t done anything wrong.  I’ll just drive a bit more and pretend I don’t see him or that I think he is after someone else.

The WRONG reaction in this case is extraordinarily tempting.  Anyone who has ever been pulled over has experienced a moment of doubtful hope when the officer first turns on his lights that maybe, just maybe, he’s after someone else.  But you need to pull over, and the sooner the better.  This is true for two reasons:

First, if you do not pull over soon enough, or if you suddenly increase speed or execute some other evasive-looking maneuver, the officer may assume you are fleeing.  Fleeing from a police officer in a car is a first-degree misdemeanor and if, as you flee, you cause a “substantial risk of serious physical harm to persons or property,” then it is a felony.  Practically speaking, there’s really nowhere besides the Nevada salt-flats that you could flee in an automobile without causing at least a risk of serious harm to property.  So, if you do not pull over promptly, you could be risking a felony charge.

Second, even if you’re right, and the police officer is not trying to pull you over specifically, he’s still behind you with his lights on, motioning for you to get out of the way.  Ohio law makes it a misdemeanor not to pull over to the right-hand edge of the road and slow to a stop to let any emergency vehicle pass.  Thus, you still need to pull to the side of the road and stop.

In short, whether the officer is trying to pull you over or not, the WRONG reaction is always wrong because the only proper thing to do under Ohio law when you see any emergency vehicle behind you with its lights on, is to pull over and stop your car.  Whether the officer is trying to pull you over or not, it is an offense under Ohio law not to pull over and stop when you see him behind you with his lights on.

For the same reasons that the WRONG reaction is wrong, the CORRECT thing to do is pull over and the BEST thing to do is pull over at the first safe opportunity.  If you come to a screeching halt in the middle of the freeway or execute some other unsafe maneuver in order to “pull over” you will just create new problems.  An unsafe stop will make the police officer less well-disposed toward you and could even be a crime in itself.  If, for instance, the way you pull over shows a wanton disregard for the safety of property or persons or shows that you do not have reasonable control over the vehicle, then you’ve just perpetrated a misdemeanor with a police officer right behind you.

Notice, all of these potential problems can arise, or not, based on how you react to the fact that a police car is behind you.  None of these potential offenses has anything to do with whether the officer has a right to pull you over in the first place.  Many of these blog posts have examined cases where you have the ability to exercise your rights and refuse certain requests by a police officer.  But stopping your car when an officer flashes his lights is not one of those situations.  Whether or not you have done something wrong is utterly irrelevant.  When an officer turns on his lights, you have to pull over and stop.  If you start to do that and he speeds past you, then you know he wasn’t after you and it’s probably safe to resume driving.  If he stops behind you, then you might have other problems but at least you won’t have created new charges for yourself because of how you handled the initial stop.

If you are under investigation, or have been arrested by any Columbus law enforcement agency, feel free to contact one of our experienced Columbus Criminal Defense Attorneys, for a free initial consultation about your legal rights and possible defenses.

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