If a police officer pulls you over and asks if they can search your car, you might not know what to say. Do you have to say yes? Are they asking simply to be polite, but will search your car regardless of what you say? In these situations, it’s important to remain calm and cooperate with the police, while also being able to recognize if they are violating your constitutional rights. Here are the situations when a police officer can search your car without your permission.
They have arrested you
If the police have taken you into custody, they are allowed to search your vehicle incident to arrest. If they begin searching your car, and it is not immediately obvious whether you are under arrest or not, you should ask the police officer to clarify if you are. If not, it may be an improper search.
They have a valid warrant
In order to be valid, a warrant must have the signature of a judge or magistrate, and describe with reasonable specificity the areas that the police officer intends to search. If a warrant is too vague, or if the officer did not go through the proper steps to obtain one, then the search may be invalid, and the court may deem any evidence found inadmissible.
They have probable cause
A police officer can search your car when the circumstances make it reasonable for them to suspect that the search will reveal evidence of a crime. The legal term for reasonable suspicion is probable cause, and it must be based on real, observable facts.
For example, if the police officer sees drugs on your dashboard or in the back seat, or if you were driving erratically like a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol would, then the police officer might have justification for conducting a search.
Knowing how to recognize a violation of your constitutional rights is essential. It can mean the difference between a conviction and the court throwing out improperly-obtained evidence.