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What Should You Do if Police Ask to Search Your Vehicle?


During routine traffic stops a police officer may ask to search your car if they believe there are weapons or narcotics in the vehicle. Fortunately, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution generally protects against random police searches like this. If an officer were to search your car without permission, the search would be in direct violation of your Constitutional rights. If you were in a traffic stop and you believe your vehicle may have been illegally searched it is important that you reach out to a criminal defense attorney.

When Can My Car Be Searched?

In most instances, the only time a police officer can legally search your car is if they have probable cause that there are illegal substances inside your vehicle. Also, if an individual in the car is arrested then the police can search your vehicle—this is search is known as an incident to the arrest.

For some reason or another, many individuals make the perplexing decision of consenting to a search of the vehicle when they know they have illegal substances inside. This decision typically stems from the belief that should you say no to the officer’s request to search they will typically search the vehicle anyway. However, this is not the case; the officer is asking to search the vehicle because they do not have probable cause to search the vehicle on their own. The only way the officer would have probable cause is if they smelled the odor of narcotics or if they were visible in “plain view”. Plain view is defined as the view the officer has from outside the vehicle.

Even if you are confident you do not have anything illegal inside your vehicle it is best not to authorize a search of your vehicle. You never know what someone else has brought into the vehicle or if the previous owner had drugs in the vehicle. Regardless of the situation, if an officer asks to search your vehicle you should always decline.

What Should You Do?

If an officer requests to search your vehicle, you should politely refuse—you do not need to give any reasoning behind your decision to decline. Often times the officer may be disgruntled by your response, but it is important to know the response is completely within your rights. Further, if the officer has already issued you your traffic citation and you have declined their request to search your vehicle, they are no longer legally allowed to hold you at the scene any longer.

Things to Remember

Please keep the following in mind during a traffic stop:

  • Politely refuse an officer’s request to search your vehicle;
  • Even if you are arrested it is best to decline the search of your vehicle;
  • It is best not to talk to officers;
  • Remember that you are probably being recorded—be respectful, regardless of how you feel about the situation.

Need an Attorney?

If you have been arrested during a traffic stop it is critical that you immediately contact an attorney. A knowledgeable attorney will protect your rights and ensure you are being treated fairly. Your attorney will be able to devise your defense based on your communication with the officer that pulled you over, and in cases where evidence was obtained illegally it may be suppressed. Contact Attorney Deric Zacca, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale to ensure that you are being represented properly during this trying time.