"Where are you heading to this evening?"
This is an investigational inquiry. The officer is asking the question to find a reason to extend his stop with you. He asks it to see if you react, are nervous, or stammer a little when you answer. He may ask it to see if what he saw matches what you were doing - and could have been watching you for quite a while - or was speaking on his radio to someone who was watching you. When you get pulled over, it's called a Terry Stop, and he has enough evidence that you have committed at least some sort of crime - broken taillight, bulb out - or he will make something up like you were swerving or acting suspicious. But what he really is working for is to get into your car.
That is the Holy Grail of a traffic stop when business is slow.
The steps are to pull you over, then find a reason to get you out of your car, then look into the car from outside, then get your permission to search the car - the end result is you go to jail - which is what he hopes to achieve. But if you have nothing to hide, why worry?
The problem is that while most police officers may be perfectly legit, some are not, and you never know which one you are dealing with. If you get a tired frustrated Sergeant with a chip on his shoulder the size of a California Redwood, you might have been pulled over by one of the most violent criminals out there. I once saw a police officer tackle a man and beat him over refusing a search. It happens, and if you've been reading, you know that the jails are full of innocent (no, really and truly innocent) people. You don't know, and sadly, with police departments covering up abuses instead of dealing with bad officers, you never know which is which - so always assume the cop that stopped you is corrupt.
So how do you answer the question? Officer, I do not consent to any searches.
He may act incredulous, but answering a question is a search. He asks to find something, he is searching and trying to get you to implicate yourself. His goal is to get you out of your car.
Now, the officer orders you out of your vehicle. You have just entered the next step in the arrest parade. He will often ask you to step to the rear of your car, and will watch you closely as you get out of the car, sometimes even holding the door open for you. He does this on purpose. He wants unfettered access to your vehicle and the more access he has, the better he likes it. As you stand at the rear of your car, you do not want to hear the words, "Well, lookie what we have here!" Remember, some cops are not legit. If they want you to go to jail, then you are giving them a beautiful chance to arrest you. The cop will lean into your door, drop a bag of crack that he took off of Joe the Dealer two days ago, and boom, the jail doors slam shut.
So how do you prevent the basic search? Lock your car.
Yep, if the officer asks you to step our of the vehicle, roll your windows up, lock the car, and when you get out, put the keys carefully in your pocket. You do not have to answer any questions as to why you do this, and it is in your best interest to not talk at all, at this point, anyway. Don't explain yourself, he doesn't care, he just wants to arrest you. If you doubt me, we have about 2.2 million citizens in prisons, and almost that many in city/county jails at any given moment. 4 million people in jail, think about that.
Now, you roll the windows up so that you can protect the interior of the car from the police officer. You want to prevent access so that if he is corrupt, he has no chance of dropping drugs into your car. You want to especially protect the drivers side because that is the area in your care and control. If he finds drugs in the passenger seat, then a good lawyer might be able to work on that, but if they are in your seat, you're done.
Pocket the keys. A pat down is to look for weapons and guns, not keys. An officer might disarm you for his protection without arresting you, but he cannot remove anything else from your pockets - even if that something else were a full bag of cocaine. Your person is as secure as the car, when you refuse a search. And he might say, "Do you mind if I look into your pockets?" the answer will always be...
Officer, I do not consent to a search.
Be VERY careful of questions like, "Do you mind if I look into..." because some police will take a "Yes," as consent, as well as a "No." It's a dangerous question to answer, so answer with, "Officer, I do not consent to a search." You can also answer with, "Officer and I free to go?" Remember, police are like barking dogs held back with the leash of law, the can bark all night, but cannot bite until YOU give them permission to do so. Watch an episode of COPS after reading this and then tell me how many of the arrestees did it to themselves.
Police Dog Searches are nothing you can avoid. Just keep silent.
Planted Drugs are something you cannot avoid. That is where the cops drop drugs outside the locked door. The first question they will ask is, "This is yours, isn't it?" They are trying for a reaction from you... again, say nothing at all. A lawyer can more easily work with your silence than they can with you stammering and acting like a deer caught in the headlights. Just keep your face neutral and say nothing. Even denying it, or saying, "You Planted That!" will do you far more damage than a cop trying to explain to a jury why the bag had none of your fingerprints on it.
Most traffic stops will just be a an unpleasant delay. Never be impolite to the police officer, and even as you refuse a search or to answer questions, be courteous and polite. A simple, I'm sorry, but I was instructed to never answer questions of Law Enforcement," is enough, then shut up when he tries to get you to tell him who you talked to or why no questions. He is attempting to engage with you and trip you up. NEVER LIE! Just stay silent.
Silence will save your life.