“Do you know why I stopped you?"
This Avvo guide does not contain legal advice, and is for informational purposes only. Our Virginia Criminal Lawyer has contributed this short, but important traffic-stop mini-guide to help drivers understand that they do not have to incriminate themselves.
So, how should you respond to the common question, “Do you know why I stopped you?"
Never say anything other than, NO. Do remain polite. Refusing to incriminate one’s self is not the same thing as acting in an uncooperative manner.
It is all too often that people think that their fate is up to the police officer, and that by admitting to something, the officer will cut them a break. Appealing to the humanity of a police officer who has just stopped you will not work; most of the time, it will only hurt you. The question, “do you know why I stopped you," is meant to elicit a response that will later be used as an admission. Stating that you do not know why you were stopped will not be used against you.
Here is a perfect example:
You are stopped on a highway, and the officer asks you whether or not you know why you were just pulled over. You reply, “I’m sorry officer, I was rushing and am running late to a job interview. I desperately need this job to make ends meet…I’m on welfare and need a job in order to pay my bills, and feed my children." Surely, the officer will understand and let you go on your way, right? Wrong. As much as this seems like a rationale statement, it is not a legal defense in court and it is not a wise statement to make to an officer. The officer will likely tell the court (either a judge or one of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys), that you apologized for speeding, therefore you knew you were speeding. Will the officer mention the part about being late for a job interview, or the fact that it was a desperately needed position, so your children will be fed? Perhaps, but probably not.
After this question (assuming the question is asked at all), most officers proceed to ask to see a license to drive, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance (sometimes).
Do not make any sudden movements, but tell the officer that you will open your glove-box (if that is where the documents are located), and that you will retrieve your license from your wallet, which is in your pocket (or wherever it is located). By telling the officer where your documents are located before immediately reaching for them, you will quell any fear that you could be reaching for a weapon or trying to “hide" something. It is also a good idea to ask the officer if you may proceed to reach into the glove box, wallet, etc. so he or she is not taken off-guard.
In some situations, the officer may ask you to step out of the vehicle. This triggers an entirely separate set of statements all drivers should memorize. Read these important statements at the Vincenzes Law blog.
Remember: it is important to remain cooperative and firm, but “cooperation" does not equate to admitting to something illegal.