Being pulled over by a police officer is always a tense situation. It can become an even more stressful event if the officer asks to search the car during the traffic stop.
If the officer has a search warrant, they will likely be able to legally search a driver’s car. However, there are also times when the police can search someone’s car. These searches may be legally valid even if the officer doesn’t have a warrant.
When the police search a car, they often won’t have a warrant. A legal, warrantless search will occur because of one of the following two reasons.
- The driver consents to the search: Most police searches that are avoidable don’t occur because the officer has reasonable cause. Rather, the search occurs because the driver consents to the search. People have a right to refuse a search request. Refusing a request for a search doesn’t make a driver look guilty–it just means that the driver is executing their rights.
- The police have reasonable suspicion: If the officer believes the driver is hiding something that’s dangerous or illegal, they will be able to search the car. In order for the search to be justified, the officer’s belief of criminal activity must be supported by probable cause. In Florida, probable cause means that a reasonable person believes a crime was committed and that the person pulled over is the one who committed the crime.
Police officers will sometimes use confusing questions or intimidating tactics to try to get a driver to consent to a search. Understanding your rights during a traffic stop, including your right to an attorney if you’re detained, can help people deal with potential charges that emerge following a traffic stop.