A police officer flashed their lights and pulled you over. Maybe they claim that you drove too fast or that your vehicle looks like one present at the scene of a crime earlier in the day. The next thing you know, they have asked you to step out of your vehicle and want to search it for drugs.
Even if you know you don’t have any drugs in your car, you probably don’t want the police going through it. After all, you never know what a previous owner or a passenger may have left behind somewhere. Can the police just search your car during a traffic stop?
They can search with permission from the driver
Police trying to find drugs in someone’s vehicle might convince them that allowing a search will be the best way to move on with their day. Drivers all too often agree to the search, only for officers to find something they didn’t realize was in their car. If you don’t give permission, then officers can only search your vehicle in two situations.
They have probable cause
If an officer smells a drug, notices signs that you or your passengers appear to be under the influence, or spots what they think is drug paraphernalia in your vehicle, they may be able to search your car. To look for drugs, they need to have probable cause to suspect that the crime occurred. Probable cause isn’t just a suspicion but rather an actual fact about the circumstances that indicates criminal activity.
They get a warrant for the search
If an officer arrests you during a traffic stop for alleged impaired driving and you don’t give them permission to search your vehicle, they might just go get a warrant.
The same is true of scenarios where officers have targeted someone because of perceived involvement in illegal drug activity. If they followed you from a known dealer’s house before pulling you over, they might arrest you to question you and convince a judge to issue a warrant to search your car while you are in state custody.
Sometimes, invalid searches can play a role in the criminal defense strategy for those accused of drug offenses. Understanding when police can search your vehicle can help you determine if they violated your rights during a recent traffic stop.