It’s no secret that traffic stops can be stressful, especially when you’re not sure what you should or shouldn’t say in response to police questions. To help you understand what to expect and how to preserve your rights during and after the stop, we’ve compiled a list of the most common questions law enforcement is allowed to ask during a traffic stop — as well as some tips on how to respond.
1. Do you know why I pulled you over?
This is probably the most common question officers will ask during a traffic stop. The officer’s objective in asking this question is to induce an admission that you knowingly did something wrong, i.e. speeding, swerving, etc. If you acknowledge why you think you may have been pulled over, they will have further support for any fines or penalties that may be imposed.
While it may be tempting to blurt out an answer like “I was speeding,” it’s important to remain calm, polite, and reserved in your response to this question. The 5th amendment protects you from self-incrimination, and you should exercise this right. Simply tell the officer that you’d “rather not say” and respectfully inform them that you are exercising your 5th amendment right.
2. “Have you been drinking tonight?”
Unless you are positive that you have not had even a drop of alcohol prior to getting behind the wheel, keep responses to this question as vague as possible. You do not need to – and should not – respond to this question with anything other than a calm, polite assertion that you’d rather not say without legal representation present.
Don’t let the officer’s raised eyebrow or follow-up questions fool you. You do not have to answer their questions, including – and especially – this one. If you admit that you have been drinking, the officer will have probable cause to ask you to submit to sobriety testing. To avoid OWI charges, it is best to stay silent in response to the “have you been drinking?” question.
3. “Do you have any weapons in the car?”
In some states, you may be required to tell police that you are carrying a weapon immediately when stopped by law enforcement. Wisconsin requires that you disclose this information and reveal your permit when prompted to do so by police — but not until you are prompted.
If you are traveling through another state with a weapon, however, it is important that you research that state’s laws regarding disclosing guns and other weapons during traffic stops to avoid potential legal trouble.
4. “Can I search your car?”
It is your constitutional right to decline requests from law enforcement to search your car. Stating “I do not consent to searches” in response to this request may prevent the officer from pressing further.
If you do not give your consent, the officer may still assert that they have probable cause to search the vehicle and ask you to step out. In this case, you should calmly comply and step outside the vehicle while the officer searches your car. If they find incriminating evidence such as drugs or weapons, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to invalidate the evidence by demonstrating lack of probable cause and consent.
If you are arrested at a traffic stop, you have the right to know why you are being arrested. You also have the right to an attorney, and you should exercise that right. Don’t answer any questions from law enforcement without an experienced Wisconsin defense attorney present.