In order for officers to make an arrest, some evidence must exist that a person has committed a crime. This evidence can give officers probable cause to take a person into custody on the applicable charges. However, officers typically need to search for that evidence. As a result, if an officer pulls you over, he or she may want to search your vehicle. Is that legal?
In many cases, police officers do have legal authority to search vehicles, and it is not always necessary to have a warrant in order to do so. Still, that does not mean that an officer can search your vehicle without probable cause or without your permission.
Refusing a search
You may understandably feel nervous if an officer pulls you over, and while you may think you have done nothing seriously wrong, you may still worry about getting a ticket for speeding or for having a brake light out. When the officer starts asking a lot of questions and peering inside your vehicle, you may become even more worried. If the officer wants to conduct a search, you should remember that you can refuse.
It can seem intimidating to refuse an officer’s request, but you have the legal right to do so. Even if you do not have anything you want to hide, you can still refuse the search. The officer may try to intimidate you by saying that refusing makes you look suspicious, but you do not have to give in.
Conducting a search
Of course, an officer may have the ability to conduct a vehicle search even without your consent. If an officer believes that you have something in your vehicle that could cause him or her harm, such as a concealed weapon, the officer may be able to perform a search. The officer may also have probable cause to search your vehicle if he or she sees evidence in plain sight, such as illegal substances, drug paraphernalia or open alcohol containers.
It can be tricky to fully understand and invoke your rights when you feel under pressure. If you end up pulled over by a police and the officer conducts a search that uncovers evidence that leads to your arrest, you will want to go over the details of that search with a criminal defense attorney. In some cases, officers may not properly follow the law, and if wrongdoing has occurred, that could play a major role in your defense against any formal allegations.