You’ve been stopped on the road by police, the officer has asked you some questions and now indicates that he or she wants to conduct a search of your car. What are your rights? What should you do?
The Basic Rule
Under the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, there must be probable cause for any search or seizure or the police must have a warrant (which must be based on probable cause). The mere fact that a police officer has pulled you over for a traffic violation does not, however, amount to probable cause to conduct a search of your vehicle.
Exceptions to the Rule
However, the officer may make other observations that will constitute probable cause:
- If you have incriminating evidence in plain view—empty or open alcoholic beverages, drug paraphernalia or stolen merchandise—an officer may be justified in conducting a search
- Behavior that indicates you may be hiding something—if you are constantly darting your eyes around, or glancing at a particular part of the vehicle, or even dropping one or both shoulders, the officer may sense that you are trying to conceal something
In addition, if the officer actually places you under arrest—giving you a traffic ticket is not placing you under arrest—the officer may engage in a limited search to protect his or her safety or to gather any evidence related to the arrest. For example, if you have open containers in the vehicle, the officer may conduct a reasonable search to look for all such containers. If that search produces illegal drugs or an unlicensed weapon, the evidence may be admissible, as the search may be appropriate.
Contact the Law Office of Michael Curtis Greenberg
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