If law enforcement pulls you over, it is important to remember your Fourth Amendment rights. Just as police cannot search your home without a warrant, they cannot search your vehicle without probable cause.
Unfortunately, too many officers use traffic stops as a pretext. They may assume that you do not know your rights, and they may try to convince you to allow a search even if they have no reason to believe you have committed a crime.
When can an officer search your vehicle?
To perform a lawful search during a traffic stop, an officer needs either your consent or probable cause to believe your vehicle contains evidence of a crime. Police may also perform a search if they reasonably believe you pose an immediate safety risk.
However, officers may not search your vehicle based on a hunch; they must be able to articulate specific, supportable reasons that the search was legal and necessary.
What if an officer asks your permission to search your car?
If an officer had probable cause to believe you had committed a crime, he or she would not need you to agree to a search. If the police ask to search your car, you have a right to politely decline without a lawyer present. An officer may force a search with or without your consent. If this happens, remember that the search they are performing may be illegal.
If you are facing charges after police performed a potentially unlawful vehicle search, know that your Fourth Amendment rights matter. If an officer found evidence but did not have probable cause to search and did not have your consent, the resulting charges may not hold up in court.