How to interact with police if English is your second language

A traffic stop is not uncommon, but it can be a nerve-wracking, especially if English is not your native language. Depending on the reason you were pulled over, and how the interaction goes, an officer may ask you to do a variety of things in the name of compliance.

Below is a summary of questions police officers may ask, and tips on how to respond while still protecting yourself.

Questions police officers frequently ask during a traffic stop

  • Do you know why I pulled you over? It’s always best to keep your answers short. Do not admit to anything. Respectfully claim your right to remain silent or answer in only a few necessary words. Make it clear that you are respectful, but that you won’t be talking without an attorney present.
  • Have you been drinking? Do not admit or consent to anything, including road-side sobriety tests or breath tests, without consulting an attorney. You are not required to do so and those tests are not always reliable.
  • Can I search your vehicle? You are not obligated to let an officer search your vehicle or your home without a warrant. Saying no is an acceptable answer.

If you choose to remain silent or stick to only short answers, it is important that you are respectful in the eyes of the law. Keep your hands in plain sight, turn off your car’s engine and try not to become agitated.

If you are not comfortable speaking English, it is best to avoid lengthy communication with police officers, where a simple misunderstanding could result in wrongful criminal charges. You have the right to remain silent and sometimes, that can be your best decision.

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