July 20, 2016

Can a Police Officer Search My Car Without a Warrant or Probable Cause?

can a police officer search my car without probable cause?

*actor portrayal

Typically, police require a warrant to search you and your property. However, at a traffic stop, they only need probable cause in order to search your vehicle. This means they must have some evidence or reason to believe you are involved in criminal activity.

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So can a police officer search your car? The answer is no, if they are just going on a hunch. They need to have seen something real, such as the smell or sight of contraband, or hear an admission of guilt for a crime. It’s important to realize that minor traffic violations are not probable cause.

How to Avoid Having Your Car Searched

Understanding “probable cause” isn’t enough to prepare you for a police encounter. By following our simple rules, you can prevent police from exploiting you into giving up your constitutional rights.

1. Remain Calm

If a police officer flags you down, pull over right away, turn the car off and place your hands on the wheel. Don’t reach for your paperwork until the officer has asked for it.

Always greet the officer politely and avoid using profanity, raising your voice or talking back. If you are given a ticket, accept it quietly and listen to any instructions you are given.

2. Keep Quiet

A police officer may try to trick you into admitting that you have broken the law. This is the time to assert the 5th Amendment by refusing to admit anything. The best answer to most questions will be, “No, officer.”

3. You Can Refuse Search Requests

If a police officer orders you to step out of the vehicle, do so. If they decide to frisk and detain you, you can state that you refuse to be searched. All you have to say is, “I do not consent to this search.”

A police officer may try to trick you with a few questions such as, “Mind if I take a look in the car?” Be very wary of how you answer anything. Politely decline requests by letting the officer know you do not consent.

By refusing a search request, you are not admitting to guilt, and it does not give the police officer the legal right to search you. Too many searches happen simply because people are intimidated or tricked into consenting to the search requests.

Are You Free to Go?

Unless you are arrested or detained, you can leave at any time. But first ask the officer if you are free to go. This can help you withdraw from an unpleasant or intimidating encounter and will deflect any threats or probing questions.

If the police officer says you may go, leave immediately. If he or she is unclear or they ask more questions, persist by asking if you are free to go.

You Can Ask for a Lawyer

If the officer does not allow you to leave, you are essentially being detained. Tell the officer that you are going to remain silent and that you want to see a lawyer.

Contact a lawyer at Marchiano Law today about your rights.