Sgt. Schultz says…

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Say nothing… nothing!

To cops, ever.

Anything you say can and will be held against you. Remember that?

You ought to.

Even if you haven’t been formally arrested (merely “detained,” as in the case of a traffic stop) it does you no good and very possibly much harm to give any information to the cop beyond the simple minimums of name and perhaps address, as required by law.  Nothing more, because anything more will simply give the cop information – information he can and will use against you, both at curbside and later on, in court.

This is his job. Do not forget it.

He is not there to “help” you. He is not a good Samaritan. You are not having a chat with a friend. You have been detained because the cop believes you have violated some statute or other – and he is investigating you. He is trained to elicit confessions of guilt, which can and will be used against you. Depend upon it.

For instance:

You’ve been stopped because you were driving faster than the posted speed limit. You roll down your window and the cop asks the first leading question, “Do you know how fast you were going?” His purpose is to get you to commit to a number – probably a number that is higher than the lawful maximum, even if lower than you were actually traveling. He knows you were doing 72 but if you say 65 (and the speed limit is 55) he has not only obtained an admission of guilt, he can appear to be a “nice guy” by “giving you a break” – that is, citing you for 65 rather than 72. Either way, he – the system – wins.

You lose.

So, say nothing… nothing!

Well, nothing potentially incriminating, anyhow.

“I’m sure you have an opinion, officer” is an excellent response – though one sure to wipe any patina of “nice guy” clean off the cop.

Similarly, other interrogatories.

“Where are you headed tonight?”

Shrug.

“You’re not being very cooperative.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, officer.”

“How much have you had to drink tonight?”

Silence.

Followed, when pressed, by something along the lines of:

“I’m sorry, officer, but I won’t be answering any questions this evening.”

Because no good can come of it.

There are, in fact, only three things you should ever say to a cop. The first is:

“Am I being detained?”

And next:

“Am I free to go.”

Repeat.

Either the cop will formally arrest you or he will give up and permit you to leave. Worst case, you are arrested, but if the cop has done so out of anger at your refusal to “cooperate” rather than on the basis of actual evidence, you will be vindicated in the end, probably. The important thing is you have not been the star witness in your own prosecution; you have provided no testimony or other evidence that can and will be used against you later on, in court. Though we do live in a flowering police state, vestiges of due process still exist and one of these is that, in general, they (the cops, the prosecutors) have to produce some evidence of your guilt. It frustrates them when you do not help them to do so. Which brings me to the final thing – the last thing you should say to a cop:

“I do not consent to any searches.”

Never mind that you know there are no drugs, illegal weapons or any other contraband item in your car. Such contraband has been known to magically appear underneath seats. If you grant entry, you’ve given opportunity. By refusing, you force them to abide by at least some procedure – and you have formally refused consent, which could be a lifesaver later on, if they ignore you and go ahead and ransack your vehicle (or person) regardless.

It is important to be polite, calm and collected.

But it is far more important to not be servile – and to assert your rights, whatever’s left of them, anyhow.

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  20 comments for “Sgt. Schultz says…

  1. James
    September 7, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    Recently, on http://www.advrider.com, there was a vigorous debate regarding this subject. Specifically, how should one manage a traffic stop when riding a motorcycle? Much of the discussion revolved around how to manage helmet, gloves and the ignition key.

    A few forum members who are or were LEOs offered their comments. There was some agreement from these members that shutting off the engine, and remaining seated on the motorcycle with one’s helmet on, was sufficient if or until additional instruction was provided to the rider. The point here was that fiddling with one’s gloves or helmet might conceal additional movements that would make the officer suspect ill intent.

    Many forum members debated the wisdom of removing the ignition key immediately after coming to a stop, and stowing it out of sight before the officer walks up to the bike. The idea here is to prevent the officer from removing the key, without the rider’s consent, ostensibly to prevent a ride-off. It was at this point that the conversation got very granular: does the ignition key removal constitute a “search”? Does the officer have the unmitigated right, or privilege, to remove the key?

    Personally, I don’t know or care about the resolution of the aforementioned key issue. I was pulled over on the bike a few months ago for a speeding violation that I had surely earned. As soon as I was stopped, I immediately lowered the kickstand, stowed the ignition key in my pocket, removed my gloves and raised my face shield. The LEO was cordial and professional, and didn’t take issue with my immediate post-stop activity. Your mileage may vary here.

    • September 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm

      The handful of times I’ve been stopped on a bike, I do the following:

      Slow and signal that I’m pulling over.
      Pull over at first opportunity, but safely off the road (cops appreciate you not stopping in the middle of the road/close to fast-moving traffic).
      Shut off engine, put on flashers, put kickstand down.
      Open visor
      Wait.

      When the cop comes up to me, the first thing I do after that is advise that I am a CHP holder – which (so far) they seem to appreciate me doing.

      So far, I’ve gotten away with warnings each time – maybe because of the CHP, maybe because I was polite – I dunno!

      • methylamine
        September 7, 2011 at 8:27 pm

        First, I’m impressed you bother to stop when you’re on a bike. In Houston, there’s a quiet no-pursuit policy if it’s going to become a high-speed chase. Apparently Houston got its fill of big-dollar civil suits when their asinine yahoo police go roid-rage and cause accidents at 100+. Second, you’re on a bike. Houston’s freeways are a bike playground and if traffic’s light enough most bike riders won’t stop for a cop.

        It’s been years since I’ve ridden but when I did, of three attempted pullovers I only stopped for one–because he too was on a bike. He let me off because I pointed out a severe oil leak on his bike dripping in the path of the rear tire.

        Eric–have you been pulled over while carrying? In Texas they sometimes take your weapon while they’re “serving” you and return it after their “service”.

        • kman
          September 8, 2011 at 12:42 am

          Ive been pulled over while carrying a weapon twice. Neither cop disarmed me. The minneapolis cop was a sneering prick who said “well don’t worry, I’m not going to shoot you” (this to a 20 yr army vet with multiple trips to combat who now teaches tactical pistol ;-)
          The phoenix cop was relaxed and humerous. He said, “well if you leave yours alone I’ll leave mine alone!”

          As for not talking, after being pulled over by a MN state patrol and asked one of the usual questions I replied “do I have to answer that?” his response , you do if you want to get to the truth of this. To which I said, “what’s that mean?”
          He wrote me up for 72 in a 55. We went to court. I used the National motorist associations legal defense kit and beat him like a drum!

          • September 8, 2011 at 10:52 am

            That’s been my experience so far, too. I’ve always immediately told the cop I am CHP holder (and I keep my permit in a flip-out little mini-wallet along with my DL, so I can hand him both at the same time) even though in VA you are not legally required to do so. My opinion is this is a good way to establish some rapport without being obsequious or admitting any guilt in re the traffic issue (whatever it might be). My reasoning is the CHP immediately tells the cop you’re probably not a scumbag (no felony convictions; passed background check and treat guns/gun safety seriously). So far, so good – two warnings, no other hassles. Never been disarmed.

            But, the caveat may be that I live in very rural SW Virginia. Everyone here is either armed or gun friendly and it’s a more relaxed atmosphere. Dom might have had different experiences up in Northern Virginia….

  2. methylamine
    September 7, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    There are some excellent case-by-case videos on this site:
    Flex Your Rights

    And Eric you’re spot-on. NEVER talk to ANY government agent, period. One of my best friends is a criminal defense lawyer, and on his own website he has a page labeled “free million-dollar advice”; its entire theme is never talk to government agents

    Not just cops, either. Any of those parasites’ testimony is considered unimpeachable in court–because, you know, they are the Exalted Ones and we are Mere Mundanes.

    It sucks that I can remember a time in my youth in the 80′s when cops were still pretty friendly for the most part, and you could argue successfully roadside–without a chest full of taser darts or worse.

    • Brent P
      September 8, 2011 at 3:59 am

      I was going to mention those videos and you beat me to it. But the there’s my favorite from another source:

      Don’t talk to cops.

  3. babydriver
    September 7, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    I have to say here folks that here in Idaho the cops have always been cordial. In 5 stops in the last 8 years I have been written up only once. Once I was asked if I was carrying, and although I did not remember the law re: declaring, I was not at the time. My age might be part of the reason (58), I don’t know.

  4. SojournerMoon
    September 8, 2011 at 1:44 am

    You might find the following from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to your liking, too:

    https://www.eff.org/wp/know-your-rights

    The EFF is a group of lawyers who tend to do really good work in the area of liberty and freedom. Mostly having to do with the interface of law and technology, they also have had some input on other things such as warrantless GPS marking and tracking of cars, cell phones, etc. Generally speaking, they seem to be the good guys, and what they have to say on this topic compliments what you’re saying on vehicle stops.

  5. Andrew F.
    September 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm

    I’ve always thought that saying “sorry, I can’t answer that, officer” would be a good response to a cop’s questions. He can infer that I can’t answer because I don’t know the answer, or because I refuse to answer. If he’s smart enough to ask which, I’d just say it again, like a broken record.

    • dom
      September 9, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      That sounds great and it’s easy to remember!

      • kitedriver
        September 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm

        The officer would love you to say that you do not know how fast you were going, it gives him the basis for charging you with reckless driving.

        The only good answer is, “Yes, sir, I know exactly how fast I was going.” When that brings the automatic, predictable, response question, “Well, how fast were you going” you should simply ask, “Am I free to go, now?”

  6. Paul
    September 9, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    What is a good response if an office invites you to step out of the car? If you open the car door, does that indicate your permission for a search?

    • methylamine
      September 9, 2011 at 6:21 pm

      Three responses to that one:

      1) “Am I being detained?”
      2) “Am I free to go?”
      3) “I do not consent to any searches.”

      As Eric rightly points out, and my criminal-defense friend reiterated when we talked about this: refusing consent to a search often renders any “evidence” inadmissible. Especially if you’ve given them nothing by remaining silent; they have to dig for some probable cause, and your silence ain’t it!

  7. Dave Webb
    September 9, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Even a fish wouldn’t get caught if he didn’t open his mouth!
    My problem is I think the whole police problem is their viewpoint as a predator. This has evolved from our court system.
    Never in the history of the world has there been a legal system quite like ours. It is trial by wealth. Lawyers spend three years learning to create problems, and one year learning to solve them. The police are simply an arm of the courts and are instructed to cause problems for the economic well-being of the law! Their job has developed into one of solicitation. Drag people into court and fine them money. If they get a lawyer, so much the better. Employ the parasites. That is what it is all about.
    Always be polite. No Sir, Yes Sir, etc. Say nothing that is not a direct question. Do nothing to excite them. Running from a predator automatically causes the predator to chase you. Look them directly in the eye.
    Always dress like you are upper middle class with money. That means that they will not win in court and they know it.
    If you answer a question, give them no information or as little information as possible. Throw the question back at them if possible. But follow the advice and offer as little as possible.
    Another problem with predators is they disobey their own rules of behavior and disqualify themselves in a court of law.
    We need balance. One balance would be counter suing the system. Unfortunately, these predators have covered that base. No matter what they do, they cannot be sued successfully without a lot of time and expense.
    One balance is Internal Affairs. If a law official does lie and it is proveable, by all means approach the police chief about an investigation by internal affairs. Cover your bases first. Do not give any evidence to a police person without first clearing it with your own lawyer. The law has a club. It is a union. Break the rules at your own risk. Another balance is a free law service in many towns called the Ombudsman. His job is to clear red tape and solve problems before they become embarrassing to the government.
    Most of the time ombudsmen reported actions are in the local newspaper.
    I once defeated a law director for our city.
    I did it with questions.
    Are you an officer of the court?
    Yes.
    If I bring you evidence of a misdeed by your zoning people, are you duty bound to correct it as an officer of the court?
    Yes.
    I have here clear evidence of being grandfathered in on this zoning violation. Note the dates of work done before we became a city.
    Send me a copy of the receipt and I will take care of it.
    Every year, a zoning person came out. I refused them access to my back yard which is fenced with no trespassing signs.
    Every year they sited the driveway for being gravel. Every year, I made a phone call to the law director.
    Finally I asked him to site them for harassment. That stopped it. I finally got a really good deal from a local contractor doing other work to put in a cement drive. I think I paid about half what it was worth.
    Remember always, you are not dealing with a real policeman with professional ethics. You are dealing with a predator instructed to cause you economic problems and feed his parasitic bosses.

  8. D H
    September 9, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    Your article is all well and good but how many people want to go through the problems of protecting themselves from a possible future event for which they probably have no time and will be found guilty of anyway? Innocent until proven guilty NEVER applies when those deciding a Driver’s fate have a vested interest in finding him guilty. My Mother told me long ago: Do what the Slaves did. Be cooperative but know nothing.
    The situation in the States was a long-time coming (It started with those Stool Specimens Johnson and Nixon) which is why I got out and moved to the Land of The Free (Germany) and the Land of The Free (er) (Mexico). Before I left however, I protected myself with multiple US Driving Licenses and Duel (sometimes Triple) registered cars. If I rented a vehicle, I used my Foreign Driving License. This not only saved me a lot of Vehicle Tax and got me out of some Tickets but because there are no Privacy Laws in the US, it also protected me from those Crotch-Itch Insurance Companies accessing my Driving Record – something for which people would probably go to jail in Germany and is also illegal in Mexico.
    Bush-Face and those other Testicles pretty-much made this impossible (pretty-much but not totally if one is resourceful). The Article was about protecting one’s self however and not about doing anything illegal (Illegal in the State’s eyes, not morally). For me, the best protection now is Mexico. One can obtain residency fairly easily (even if he doesn’t live here), get a Driving License, purchase and register a car, secure Tourist Insurance and is then exempt from Cameras, Insurance Company Surcharges and Driving License Points.
    The only threat left is receiving a Ticket from a Revenuer which is a lot cheaper than adding the other fees associated with being in the System. And if one is totally cooperative and does none of the things suggested in the Article, there may be no Citation. One cannot fight the System. It’s too late and most people don’t care about Freedom, Personal Privacy and protection from their Government. The best thing to do is leave the System and know nothing when stopped. “My speedometer is in Kilometers”, “I don’t know my Social Security Number”, “My address is Blah, Blah, Blah, Mexico/Germany. That’s what I do when I’m in the States but I’ve always been a bit extreme.

    • September 9, 2011 at 6:43 pm

      Hey DH,

      Good stuff! I like your way of thinking; it may indeed be better to game the system this way given how bad things are already. I may have to go to ol’ Me-he-co myself…. Viva Gorditas!

  9. September 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Joe Colombo was a well-guarded organized crime boss who operated in New York in the ’60s and ’70s. In 1972, a mob rival paid Jerome Johnson to murder Colombo during the Italian Unity Day rally. Knowing that the man might be caught and reveal who had hired him, the employer took additional precautions to silence the killer.

    As planned, the hired assassin rushed Colombo during the parade and shot the mob boss. Colombo did not die, but was permanently paralyzed and soon lost control of his crime syndicate.

    When the gunman tried to make his escape, however, five large Sicilian gentlemen tackled him and covered him with their bodies. When the five men stood up, Jerome Johnson lay dead with two bullet holes in him.

    A revolver wrapped in friction tape lay on his body. The entire incident was captured on film by several television cameras.

    The five Sicilian gentlemen refused to talk to the police. So thorough was their refusal that the police were not sure whether the men spoke English, or any other language, for that matter. Attempted interrogations in various dialects were all fruitless.

    All five men tested positive for nitrates on both hands. None of the five, as near as could be determined, had a Social Security number. All five were released by the police after being held for less than 20 hours. None of the five were charged with any crime.

    Some people might ask why a charge of conspiracy was not brought. The fact was that since no one said one word to the police, there was no starting point from which to build a case. The five men could have been tackling the assassin to disarm him, and the trigger of his gun got squeezed twice in the struggle.

    Without testimony, the prosecution could not prove anything, and the DA knew this. The five men walked away. No law enforcement agency ever conducted any investigation into either the Colombo shooting or the Johnson murder.

  10. mamba
    November 20, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I always like to answer cops with their own questions, perfectly legal and Iexplain to them it’s for the same reason they’re asking. Drives them nuts, even when they ignore it.

    for example, a typical encounter could go hypothetically like this at a trafic checkpoint (C=cop, M=me):

    (C) “Sir, may I see your license and regestration?”
    (M) “Of course…and may I see yours?”
    (C) “Why?”
    (M) “Same as you, just making sure you are driving your vehicle legally and confirming your identity”
    (C) “AHEM…I am a cop, that’s proof enough for you.”
    (M) “…and you have my licence plate and can verify my information from it through your computer. That wasn’t good enough for you, why should even less be good enough for me?”
    (C) “That’s not important, I’m want proof that you can legally drive…”
    (M) (hands him the docuemnts) “and I want proof YOU are legal to drive! Just show me and we can move on…”
    (C) “I’M asking the questions here!”
    (M) “Yes you are…and so am I. But if you’re in a rush, I’ll just assume you aren’t lying about your identity.”
    (C) “SIR, have you been drinking tonight?”
    (M) “Not a drop…have YOU been drinking tonight?”
    (C) “I AM AN ON DUTY OFFICER!!!”
    (M) “…and I am an innocent driver you pulled over randomly. You have the same reason to question my sobriety as I do to question yours. So have you been drinking tonight officer?”
    (C) “NO I have not been, and I don’t like your attitude!”
    (M) “I’m just asking the same questions you are. I am calm though, and you are getting agitated. Are you SURE you haven’t been drinking tonight? As you know, loss of emotion control is a sign of intoxication and so there’s a reason I’m concerned here…”
    (C) “ENOUGH, just get the hell out of here!”

    Remember nothing is illegal here, and I’ve been fully cooperative. Many encounters have followed a similar vein and it’s always funny. Sure I’m risking an asshole cop going wild, but they would have done so anyway, so nothing lost there, and my pride gets satisfied.

    • November 20, 2012 at 7:14 pm

      Mamba,

      You just made my afternoon!

      I will try this tactic next time I have to deal with one of America’s Swinest. Excellent turning of the proverbial tables. Might even cause ‘em to think – and possibly, empathize… .

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