The law protects against unreasonable search and seizure, making it so that cops can’t just search your car because they think you might be doing something illegal. While they usually must obtain a search warrant to search your property, they can search your car during a traffic stop if they have probable cause. This means they have to have a legitimate reason to search your car. Getting stopped for a traffic violation is not probable cause for a search. It is important to understand your rights in case you are pulled over.
What is Probable Cause?
The fourth amendment requires there to be probable cause before a warrant for arrest or search can be issued. Likewise, arrests or searches without a warrant must also have probable cause. This term means that there must be facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a crime has or will be committed or that evidence of a crime exists at that location. During a traffic stop, a police officer must have some sort of evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that evidence of a crime is located in the vehicle.
Probable Cause during a Traffic Stop
Not only do the police need a reason to pull you over for a traffic stop, they also need a reason for a search of your vehicle. Once you are pulled over, the police are going to use your actions and your words to determine if they have cause. They may also look to see if anything is sitting in plain view that may be a cause for concern. If you haven’t committed a crime, you shouldn’t worry about having your car searched because there will not be probable cause. Never give the police a reason to search your car, and any unfortunate traffic stops should be short. Probable cause may include:
- Plain View. The officer can scan the inside of your car from where he/she stands at the window. If he/she sees drugs, weapons, or anything else that gives him cause to believe a crime has been committed, then he/she can search your car.
- Smell Drugs. If the officer can smell drugs, that may be reason to search the car, or at the very least, cause for an arrest.
- Behavior. The police officer will be watching your behavior and listening carefully for your answers to questions. If your behavior demonstrates that you’ve been drinking or doing drugs, or committed a crime, the officer may have probable cause for either an arrest or a search. If you threaten the officer in any way, that could also give the officer cause to search for weapons.
- Consent. The officer may casually ask to search your car. If you give consent, then the office can search your car. Do not give permission for any searches.
What to do During a Traffic Stop
A traffic stop can be overwhelming, and having a police officer ask you questions can be scary. Knowing what to do if you are stopped, can help you to remain calm. The police officer may ask leading questions to get you to incriminate yourself, but you do not have to answer any questions. If you get pulled over for a traffic stop, remember these tips:
- Be Polite. Always treat the officer with respect. If you feel you’ve been pulled over for no reason, it is easy to lose your cool. Never take your frustration out on the police officer. Instead, relax, and be polite. When you see police lights in your rearview mirror, immediately pull over, stop the car and put your hands on the wheel. Police officers never know what they are going to encounter when they pull someone over, so make it easy on everyone and keep your hands where they can see them. Wait for the officer to ask for you license and registration before reaching for them. Never argue, swear or raise your voice. If you are given a ticket, remain calm, and drive away slowly when you are told it is okay to leave.
- Use Your Right to Remain Silent. While it is important to be polite, it is also important to exercise your right to remain silent. If the police officer asks if you know why you were pulled over, you do not have to tell him/her. Answer that you do not know. Similarly, if the officer asks if you have been drinking or any other question that requires you to admit guilt, you do not have to answer. Always stay polite, but do not incriminate yourself.
- Refuse any Requests for a Search. The officer may ask if he/she can search your car. You do not have to say yes. Tell the officer politely that you do not consent to any searches.
- Ask if You a Free to Leave. If the police continue to question you, you can ask if you are free to go. Unless you are going to be detained or arrested, you should be free to leave. If they let you leave, be sure to drive away carefully.
- Request a Lawyer. If the police decide to detain or arrest you, then it is best to ask for a lawyer. You can tell them that you are going to remain silent and wish to speak to a lawyer. Do not answer any questions until you have spoken to a lawyer.
Know Your Rights
Knowing your rights will protect you from any unnecessary searches of your vehicle. Be aware that the police officer will be looking for probable cause, and ensure that your behavior does not give them cause. You have a right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions. You have the right to refuse a search, and you have a right to a lawyer. Any time you are arrested, call a lawyer as soon as possible. A lawyer can provide valuable guidance and help protect your rights. Call Dennis F. Dwyer today to discuss your case.