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Handling the Police During a Motorcycle Stop

So, you’ve been pulled over on your bike. How should you handle this? Where do you put your hands? What should you do? Our experienced New York Criminal Attorneys recommend that you hit the kill switch on your motorcycle, rest it on the kickstand, and keep your hands on the handlebars or raise them in the air, provide your documentation, refuse to consent to searches, and refuse to answer any questions, but be polite. Whatever you do, do not run from the police.

Show the police officer you are not violent and do not present a threat by turning off your bike, resting it on the kickstand, and keeping your hands in a place where the police officer can see them. This simple act may protect you from an altercation with the police based on a simple misunderstanding. Police may interpret any “reaching” movements towards a person’s pockets as reaching for a weapon. Bikers often have their wallets in places other than their rear pants pocket, such as the deep pocket of their chaps, their saddlebags, inside their tool roll, inside the chest pockets of their vest or jacket, inside a thigh bag, et cetera. It is important to communicate effectively with the officer so that officer is not startled by any sudden movement. Police officers may lack motorcycle specific training, or if they have been exposed to motorcycle specific training, that training may have characterized all bikers as potential members of outlaw motorcycle gangs. These two factors, combined with the fact that bikers often store their wallets in unconventional places, present a unique danger to bikers who have been pulled over. You can decrease your risk of a dangerous interaction with the police by hitting the kill switch on your bike, keeping your hands safely on the handlebars or raising them in the air, and putting your bike on kickstand. Communicate your cooperation with the officer by both your words and deeds.

The police officer will then approach your motorcycle, often from the left side, and may ask for your license, insurance documentation, and registration. If you are wearing a full face helmet they may ask you to remove your helmet, particularly if you have a tinted or mirrored helmet shield. First, you must provide your license, insurance documentation, and registration. New York State law requires that all motorcycles riders carry a Class M driver’s license, carry proof of motorcycle insurance, and have their motorcycle’s registration up to date, and carry a copy of their registration. Your documentation must be provided. Although it is not a crime to refuse to provide your documents, refusing to provide them is presumptive evidence that the vehicle operator is not properly credentialed and can subject the operator to arrest, traffic tickets that will need to be answered in court, and administrative fees. To provide your documents, first let the police officer know where your documents are kept, so that the officer knows where you will be reaching, and that you are not reaching for a weapon.

Second, you must reveal your face from inside your motorcycle helmet. Not doing so may trigger the police’s duty to identify you. If you refuse to remove your helmet, you may be subjected to non-arrest detention so that the police may verify your identity.

After you have provided your documents and identity to the police officer, they may ask if you know why they pulled you over. The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent and refuse to answer the police officer’s questions. The police officer may be asking questions to gather evidence to charge you with a traffic offense or some other crime. In order to protect yourself from accidentally confessing to a crime, it is best to never answer the officer’s questions. You should invoke your right to remain silent by telling the police officer in substance “I am invoking my right to remain silent. I will not answer questions without consulting my lawyer.” This should be done as politely as possible.

The police officer may ask to search your motorcycle’s luggage. The Fourth Amendment protects you and your things from unreasonable searches, like having your saddlebags rifled through on the side of the road. You have the right to refuse to consent to searches of your motorcycle’s luggage and you should never consent to such searches. You may refuse consent by telling the police officer “I do not consent to any searches.”

You may be thinking, “Hey, I am a law-abiding citizen, I have nothing to hide, why not let the police search my saddlebags, sissy bar bag, or tool roll?” A bad situation may occur if you consent to a search but a third person accidentally left some of their contraband in your saddlebags. Consenting to a search, as a general principle will not help you and can only be used against you. In order to protect yourself from criminal charges it is best to never consent to searches.

If you are a part of any sort of motorcycle club (1% or 99%), motorcycle association, or riding club and you are wearing your patch and cut, the police may ask you about your membership in the club or association. Here, you should also invoke the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. The police officer may not be familiar with motorcycle culture and may assume that anyone who wears a patch is a gang member. This is obviously not so. Answers to the officer’s questions about your membership in any motorcycle riding group could potentially end up inside a gang database, despite the fact that your motorcycle group may be completely law abiding. Gang databases are secret databases that store unverified information about people who may be involved in gang activity. People in these databases may be targeted for arrest, and charges against them may be prosecuted with less leniency, despite the fact that all it may take to get entered into a gang database is wearing the wrong color clothing or associating with friends who are members of a gang. The information in the NYPD gang database is stored for an undetermined amount of time, and there is no way to find out if a person has been entered into the database until it is revealed at prosecution.

After you have provided your documentation to the police in a non-threatening manner, politely refused to answer questions or consent to any searches, and decline to answer questions about your patch and cut, the police should return to their vehicle and begin to prepare your tickets. If you are stopped for longer than 20 minutes you should politely ask the police officer if you are free to go or under arrest. Ask this question from your bike, do not approach the police car.

The police do not have a right to stop you indefinitely, only for a reasonable period of time to verify your identity by checking your license, check to see if you have open arrest warrants, and to prepare the tickets. Police may want to have you wait for a K9 to sniff your saddlebags or bike. You are not required to consent to anything. If the police do not allow you to leave within a reasonable period do not get upset, simply let the officers do their jobs.

After the traffic stop has concluded safely, you should contact our Experienced New York Criminal Attorneys right away. If you believe that your rights have been violated in a traffic stop, or if you have been ticketed, please call us for a free consultation.

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