While a law enforcement officer generally needs a warrant to search you or your property, the rules are a little different when it comes to traffic stops. If you are pulled over for a legitimate purpose—whether you were speeding or you have a broken tail light—the officer would have the right to search your vehicle as long as they have probable cause to suspect that there is contraband or criminal evidence in your vehicle.
More specifically, the police can search your car when:
- You have given the police officer consent to search your vehicle
- The officer believes there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle
- The officer believes that a search is necessary for their own protection
- The search is related to your arrest (i.e. a search for illegal drugs)
Understanding Your Fourth Amendment Rights
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you against unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that you do not have to let a law enforcement officer search your vehicle if they do not have probable cause. The officer may ask you a series of questions, including something like "You don't mind if I look through your car, right?" If you say no, you have consented to a search.
Beware of this question, as officers often use this as a trap. You can politely decline, even if the officer tries to pressure you into it; simply state that you do not consent to the search. At this point, the only way that the officer could conduct a search is if they have probable cause. If the search is conducted without consent or probable cause, any evidence that they find could not be used against you in court.
What would give the officer probable cause?
Once you are pulled over, an officer would have the right to search your vehicle if they have a legitimate reason to suspect that there is contraband in your vehicle (i.e. illegal drugs). In order do so, however, they must have more than just a hunch or suspicions. The police officer must actually observe something real, which could include the sight of a weapon in plain view or the smell of marijuana emanating from your vehicle.
How to Protect Yourself Against Illegal Searches
During any sort of police encounter, you should always remain calm and remember your rights. Greeting an officer with respect also goes long way, so try to avoid getting angry. Next, it is important to remember that you have the right to remain silent. What you don't say can't hurt you, so the less you say the better. Under the Fifth Amendment, you can refuse to admit that you have broken the law. Simply remain silent.
You also have the right to refuse a search request, unless of course the officer has probable cause. In response to any such request, you can politely decline by saying that you do not consent to searches. The officer may try to coax you into providing consent by asking questions like "What do you have to hide?" but you are not required to provide consent. However, you should only refuse verbally, not physically.
The police found drugs in my car – what should I do?
If drugs were found in your vehicle, you should waste no time in contacting a Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer. Whether the search was lawful or not, you would benefit from having an experienced legal advocate in your corner. The Law Office of A. Oliver Hassibi has been protecting clients' rights for more than a decade, so you can count on my firm to provide the aggressive defense that you need. Call today for help!
Contact my firm today for a free initial consultation: (817) 953-2663.