For reference: There is the well-known argument, especially in the U.S., that you should not talk to the police, like here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-7o9xYp7eE in one of the extremest forms. There are lots of videos online of people being stopped in their cars and then going on for 30 minutes to "plead the fifth" while the cop asks the same question over and over again. For example, in the U.S., the key words seem to be "am I detained, am I free to go"; and by the way they are always used exactly like this, I assume they are not just randomly used, but with some kind of precedent.

Question: What kind of information is a police officer in Germany allowed to ask, in random situations on the street, i.e. during a traffic check? Presumably name and address, and whatever is on the Personalausweis? Is there a particular (verbatim) sentence that can be used in German if you do not wish to answer a question, without making yourself suspicious?

As a very concrete example: I was stopped in a generic traffic check once, late at night, in a very peaceful area where nothing ever happens, and was asked where I just came from. I truthfully answered "from the gym" or something like that and that was it. At the time, it seemed simply like small talk; they were friendly, I was friendly, they had a look at my documents, and we were done with it. But it certainly was the kind of situation those U.S. videos seem to be about; i.e. I could pretty easily have been forced into a situation where I had to lie or implicate myself, without even knowing.

I know that there are political groups with very strong opinions in Germany who will tell us to not utter a single word to an officer, but would prefer to know what the judicative has to say on this. Are there well-known precedent cases? Are there official formulations which are recognizable to an officer to mean "I am aware of my rights, and would prefer not to make an issue of this, but don't want to keel over right away"? Or is this more of a cat-and-mouse game, usually? Is there a (publicised) policy about this in the police community?

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    '"am I detained, am I free to go" [...] always used exactly like this [...] with some kind of precedent.' That rings alarm bells for me, as it sounds very similar to Sovereign Citizen 'techniques' ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_citizen_movement ), wherein very precise phrases are given near-magical status and used in the (mistaken) belief that they have a particular power. – owjburnham Aug 9 at 15:42
  • @owjburnham, yup, that's partly why the question came up to me - the view we get (from outside of the US, and especially through Youtube) may or may not be very distorted... I would like to know if this topic generally is talked about in law circles (universities, police, law system itself) in a more neutral fashion. – AnoE Aug 9 at 18:10
  • @owjburnham I'm not so sure what's wrong with stating those words exactly like that if it invokes a certain right. Or would exercising one's rights be also akin to 'sovereign citizen techniques' - in other words, just do what you're told? – mark b Aug 9 at 20:39
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    @owjburnham those phrases aren't magic words but they're the most straightforward way of determining whether you've been detained or, on the other hand, if the conversation is "consensual." The questions are based in 4th amendment jurisprudence rather than on crackpot theories. – phoog Aug 9 at 20:39
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The German Bar Association published an article about your rights in traffic controls (Polizei­kon­trolle: Das sind Ihre Rechte, July 2018) and an article about your rights in identity checks (Was darf die Polizei bei einer Perso­nen­kon­trolle?, June 2018).

Traffic check

You do have to

  • answer questions for determining your identity (see section about identity check).
  • show the car registration document.
  • show your driving licence.
  • leave the vehicle (if asked to).
  • show the legally required equipment (medical kit etc.).

You don’t have to

  • answer questions like "Why do you think you were stopped?" or "Where are you coming from?".
  • admit a crime/offense.
  • agree to a test (breathalyser, urine, blood, pupil reaction etc.).
  • let them enter or search through your vehicle (unless in the case of Gefahr im Verzug, i.e., something like exigent circumstances).

If you don’t want to answer a question, they recommend to say that you don’t want to answer.

If you don’t agree to a test, the police may bring you to a police station where they may e.g. take a blood sample.

Identity check

You do have to

  • answer questions for determining your identity, i.e.:

    • name
    • birthday
    • birthplace
    • home address
    • nationality
  • show your identity document (if carrying it with you).

You don’t have to

  • answer any other questions (e.g., where you are coming from or going to).

If you don’t answer the questions for determining your identity, the police may bring you to a police station, and/or frisk you (only allowed in certain circumstances).

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