Getting pulled over by police for even the simplest of traffic stops can be nerve-racking. If the interaction moves beyond them giving you a ticket – for instance if they say, “We smell something in your car” or “If you haven’t done anything, then you’ll agree to us searching your car” – there are some important things to know.
You still have rights, and there are a few key phrases you can use, straight from the Constitution and past case laws, that’ll assist in moving the situation along.
1. “Am I free to go?”
First try saying something along the lines of “Am I being detained?” If the police have nothing on you, they cannot do anything but let you go. But they may say, “No, you are not free to go,” in which case they suspect something and are going to try to get you to admit to something.
2. “I do not consent to any type of search.”
Unless there is evidence of a crime visible from through the window, law enforcement cannot perform a warrantless search your vehicle (or your house) without your permission – which means they may try to play mind tricks to convince you to allow a search. So do NOT give up your rights too easily (who knows what your buddy forget in your glove compartment?), even if they slip in the old, “We’ll go easier on you if you let us search your car.”
3. “I want to remain silent.”
Let’s say you’re pulled over for going 10 miles over the speed limit and when you open the window they claim to smell marijuana. Instead of babbling on and on about the one time your friend borrowed your vehicle, use this phrase. You have a constitutional right not to incriminate yourself (the 5th amendment that TV loves so much), so they cannot force you to say anything. They may take you in, but you will not have dug a hole for yourself that you have trouble getting out of later.
4. “I want a lawyer.”
If you’ve gotten this far, chances are you’re past the point of them letting you go on your merry way. So ask for one and remain silent until the lawyer arrives.
This video shows examples of how you can use these 4 magic phrases (and then some) and best practices for handling yourself calmly if you are pulled over.
These may be difficult to remember when under pressure. I suggest leaving a note in your car or using a mnemonic for “Free (to go), (do not consent to) Searches, (stay) Silent, and (I want a) Lawyer.”