Can Your Vehicle Be Searched?

Most people never think about what might happen if they were stopped by law enforcement and asked to consent to a search. You have the right to refuse that request, but few people are aware of their rights when it comes to issues that occur during stressful situations. Law enforcement cannot conduct searches any time they want to without cause, so read on to learn more about this important issue.

Understanding Grounds

In legal terms, the word grounds means a reason, and law enforcement cannot conduct a search based on mere suspicions. When a law enforcement official has a good reason to believe that their findings will result in something illegal, they don't need permission. Another word for grounds is probable cause and can be construed to mean that a search will probably result in a criminal charge against a vehicle occupant. Here are a few examples of probable cause that might spur law enforcement to perform a search even if you refuse to give permission:

1. The officer can see something in the vehicle in plain sight from the outside looking in, such as open alcohol containers, drugs, drug paraphernalia, weapons, etc.

2. The officer smells the odor of marijuana or alcohol during the stop.

3. The officer identifies a vehicle occupant as exhibiting signs of impairment, such as slurred speech or other behaviors.

And more.

What to Do When You Are Stopped by Law Enforcement

You can both avoid problems and lessen the chances of having your rights trod upon if you keep the following tips in mind:

1. Even if the officer has (or claims to have) probable cause to search your vehicle, you have the right to refuse the search. Your interactions with the officers should be polite but assertive. Your refusal will be noted and recorded and can later be used if any aspect of an arrest comes under question. You might say "I am refusing to give you permission to search my car. If you want to write me a citation then do so and let me leave".

2. Never leave a stop without the permission of the officer, regardless of the circumstances.

3. If you are arrested, you are not necessarily required to provide the officer with permission to search your car. For example, if you are arrested for having a lot of unpaid traffic tickets, law enforcement still has to show probable cause to search your car. If, however, you are arrested for being under the influence, they have probable cause to locate any illegal substances in your vehicle. The fact that you are under the influence alone provides probable cause.

If you have been arrested as a result of a roadside stop and you suspect your vehicle was searched using improper grounds, speak to a criminal defense attorney right away.