But after I'd told folks whatever it was I'd prepared to tell them, during the Q&A period, questions to "the ACLU guy" would inevitably revert to "What should I do when stopped by the police? Can I say 'no' to a request to search my car? What are my rights?" After a while, I started to give that presentation first and leave specifics about whatever question I was asked to speak on to the Q&A. For the most part that's the information average folks were really looking for, from the "ACLU guy," at least.
I am not a lawyer (IANAL), but I'm competent to walk through the high points of what the Supreme Court has said are your rights at a traffic or pedestrian stop (though with each passing session of the court they become fewer and less substantive). ACLU has a little "know your rights" wallet-sized card that covers most of the bases, a great handout for such gatherings, and after the group Flex Your Rights came out with their Busted! DVD, which walks through scenarios and gives examples of "what to say," I was pretty much set. I've used those two props together at "know your rights" presentations quite a few times.
But I often told audiences that the best, or at least most pragmatic and memorable, advice they'd ever get on the all-important subject of "How not to get your ass kicked by the police" might come from comedian Chris Rock's old HBO show. That's the title of his brilliant "educational video" embedded below. I looked for it unsuccessfully on YouTube awhile back, but recently noticed the blog Simple Justice (another recent addition to Grits' blogroll) has the video posted.
Whatever are your legal "rights" on paper, Chris Rock pretty much nails the reality on the ground. So do what he says, and you'll probably be fine. Probably. The only thing I'd add: Say "No" to any request for a search, under any circumstance. In no case will a search benefit you, no matter what you're told, and if police have an actual reason to search, particularly at a traffic stop, they'll do it anyway. And keep repeating the phrase "Am I free to go, officer?" whenever roadside detentions linger on too long. Otherwise, Chris explains the rest: