If you’ve ever been pulled over by law enforcement and during the traffic stop police asked to search your vehicle, you are not alone. Every day, traffic stops develop into vehicle searches.
Law enforcement has the right to escalate a traffic stop to a search if there is evidence you have something illegal in your vehicle. However, just as police are not allowed to bust into your home for any reason, nor are they allowed to search your vehicle whenever they choose. Just as Fourth Amendment protections apply to your home, they apply when police want to search your vehicle.
What You Should Do During a Traffic Stop
In addition to exercising your Fourth Amendment rights, or in spite of having this protection, it’s important to know how to act when you are pulled over by law enforcement. There are ways to prepare for and things you can do during the stop to reduce the risk police will even both with a search.
For instance, any time you drive, make sure you have your license, registration, and insurance card available. You should wait until the officer asks to see these items, but if you have them at the ready – in your visor or glove compartment or an area that is easily accessible from the drivers’ seat – it’s easier to hand them over when asked. This avoids looking disorganized and confused, which can lead an officer to believe you are intoxicated or attempting to hide something.
What If the Officer Asks to Search My Vehicle?
There are instances in which an officer will ask for permission to search your vehicle and if you grant it, the officer doesn’t need to show any probable cause. Your permission to search is enough to protect the officer’s actions.
Police will ask for permission in hope a driver doesn’t realize he or she has a right to refuse the search. Sometimes people even admit they were breaking the law.
For instance, during a traffic stop related to speeding, the officer might ask if there is anything in the vehicle that could lead to trouble. He or she is hoping you share information about anything illegal you might have with you. Some people are so overcome by guilt or fear, they announce they have something illegal in their vehicle. The officer is also asking in hopes you’ll grant the search, even though it’s within your right to refuse the search.
You Have the Right to Refuse a Request for a Vehicle Search
The most important thing you can understand if an officer asks to search your vehicle during a traffic stop? It is within your Constitutional right to refuse the search.
If the officer has no probable cause to conduct the search and you refuse, the officer must complete the traffic stop without a search and let you drive away.
To learn more about what constitutes probable cause, check out this article on nolo.com.
Law enforcement can only keep you for the length of time it takes to write the citation. However, during this time he or she will run your tags, and if they believe there might be an illegal substance in your vehicle, they can contact a K9 unit to search the outside of your vehicle. Should the K-9 alert to a problem, this serves as probable cause to search your vehicle. The same is true if the officer sees or smells something suspicious.
What Do You Need to Remember during a Traffic Stop?
If you are pulled over and an officer asks to search your vehicle, you should refuse. There is no reason to give law enforcement an opportunity to use something against you. This is true even if you are positive there is nothing in your vehicle that will get you into trouble.
During the traffic stop, pay attention to the length of time it takes from when you are pulled over to when the K9 unit arrives or when the search is conducted. If the time is unreasonably long, an attorney can use that information in your defense.
If the officer has probable cause to search your vehicle, it’s best to allow it without causing a scene. Though it can be frustrating and you might feel as if your rights have been violated, the last thing you want is for the situation to escalate even further. Be courteous, but say as little as possible.
The best thing you can do is gather as much information about the incident and take that information to an experienced attorney. Trying to handle the situation on your own or fighting back at the moment can get you into more trouble – and give the courts a justifiable reason to penalize you.
Refuse a search if law enforcement asks. Keep track of the time it takes to complete the citation. Be polite and courteous, and say as little as possible, if a search is enacted – even if you know you did nothing wrong.
If you were the victim of an illegal search or you believe law enforcement overstepped their boundaries during a traffic stop, we can help. For more information or to discuss your concerns with an experienced lawyer, contact David Lindsey to schedule a free consultation.