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Good Question: Why do police ask, "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

Good Question: Why do police ask, "Do you know why I pulled you over?"
Good Question: Why do police ask, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" 02:53

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — An all-too-common question asked during traffic stops won't be heard again in California. The state banned officers from asking drivers, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" 

So, why does law enforcement ask that question to begin with? And what's the best way to respond? Good Question.

Like a driver's rite of passage, flashing lights will eventually find our rear-view mirror. Some drivers told WCCO it induces fear. One said police inherently make him nervous, regardless of whether he did anything wrong.

All the emotions are bottled up. The first chance to release them is often as a response to the following question from the officer: "Do you know why I pulled you over?"

"It's kind of that power dynamic that I think scares some people," said Omeed Berenjian. He's a criminal defense attorney and partner with BK Law Group. "I think the most common reason is the officer wants you to admit guilt to some extent."

"They're probably looking to get you to self-incriminate," added driver Justin Gehring of Woodbury.

"If he's asking me a question, I'll answer him," added driver Deb Metzger from Wisconsin.

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It's not so much what drivers say when they answer versus how they say it that's most telling. Berenjian said officers are trained to look for non-verbal cues.

"They're checking out your demeanor, how you're acting. Are you fidgeting? Are you nervous? How is your speech? That's another common thing that they look for. Is it slurred," he said.

The investigative tactic is no longer allowed in California. Starting this year, officers there must state the reason for the stop before asking questions.

The goal is to promote transparency and limit pretext stops, like when someone gets pulled over for a busted taillight only to have their car searched for other crimes. There is an exception to the new law — officers can still ask drivers that question if it is necessary to protect life or property from an imminent threat.

Tim Metzger thinks eliminating with make the traffic stop move faster. Gehring agreed, adding, "Maybe a little safer all around."

Skipping that question isn't a luxury for drivers in Minnesota and Wisconsin, so how can they best answer it?

First, Berenjian said to be respectful and civil. 

"Just like my mom taught me back in the day, treat people the way that you want to be treated," he said.

Next, keep your answers short, even using "yes" or "no" as a response. 

"Because the longer you go on, the more you say, the more that there's opportunity to poke holes and dive into things and go places where you may not want an officer asking questions," he said.

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If you're unsure why you were pulled over, he said it is fair to ask the officer as part of your response.

Lastly, you don't have to admit guilt. As a criminal defense attorney, Berenjian advises against that. 

"The benefit is that the prosecution's case is gonna be pretty cut and dry and pretty open and shut. They've got the confession they needed and there's really not much that can be done," he said.

The flip side is some drivers feel it can be beneficial to be honest. Doing so adds to the notion of being respectful and could get you on an officer's "good side." Some attorneys say being honest could help a driver's case, allowing them to get off with a warning versus a ticket.

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