Officers have the right to pull someone over for traffic stops as long as there is a reason to do so. However, that reason can sometimes be vague, and it can leave a person open to the police asking them for permission to search the vehicle.
Even if police ask a person for access to their vehicle, do they actually have to give it? Can an officer force a search anyway?
If you give them permission
Flex Your Rights discuss when officers have a legal reason to search your car. The first is if a person gives them permission to do so. Officers often paint this as the easiest way for a driver to move on with their day. However, if an officer finds something in the vehicle that the driver did not know was there, they may still be held liable for it.
Thus, it is often beneficial for drivers to refuse to give an officer permission to take a look around, even if they think it would be harmless.
When officers can search without permission
If a driver refuses to give an officer permission to search their car, there are still two situations in which an officer can search it anyway.
The first is if they have a warrant for the search. Officers may do this especially if they have pulled a driver over for suspected intoxicated driving.
The second is if they have probable cause to do so. This can include smelling a drug, spotting drug paraphernalia, or passengers who seem obviously intoxicated being in the car.
In some cases, it is possible to get a search invalidated if it was carried out in disregard of these allowable situations.