Law Office of William B. Bennett, P.A., When Police Want To Search Your Car

When Police Want To Search Your Car, You Need To Know Your Rights

We have all had that moment filled with dread: all of a sudden you see those red and blue lights in your rear-view mirror. Typically it is a routine traffic stop and after a brief interaction and potential warning or ticket, you are free to go. In some cases though the police office may suspect something more is going on and ask if they can search your car. No matter what is the case, you should always remain calm and know your rights.

Whenever you are stopped by a police officer, it is important to follow some basic protocol which can help resolve the situation as quickly and easily as possible.

  • Pull over as soon as possible, and pull over as far as you can so that the officer can safely approach your vehicle and not have to walk in lanes of traffic.
  • Stay calm.
  • Do not argue, resist, or obstruct the officer.
  • Keep your hands where the officer can see them.
  • Do not reach for anything unless the officer makes a request.
  • You and any of your passengers have the right to remain silent.

Why Would A Police Officer Search Your Car?

If you’ve seen any number of TV shows or movies involving the law, you might think that police can search your vehicle anywhere and anytime. That is not the case. Under the Fourth Amendment, you have a right to protection from illegal search and seizure.  

In order to search your vehicle, law enforcement must have probable cause of criminal activity. Probable cause is a higher standard than reasonable suspicion and requires facts; it is not something based on guesses or a hunch. This could mean that an officer has pulled you over and sees drugs, open containers, or weapons through the window – anything that indicates that you have committed a crime, are currently committing a crime, or will commit a crime. And yes, in Florida the odor of marijuana is enough to establish probable cause to search your entire car, including the trunk.

What do you do if an officer asks to search your vehicle?

First of all, when driving be sure that you have your license, registration, and proof of insurance handy. This will help you remain calm during a traffic stop. Seeming rattled can raise suspicion and make a police officer scrutinize you and your vehicle, looking for clues that they should search your vehicle.

An officer may ask any number of questions – have you been drinking, are there weapons in the car, do you have drugs in the vehicle. The officer is hoping that you will voluntarily answer these questions. It is important not to lie to the officer, but you also do not have to directly answer these questions. You may ask if you are being arrested or are in trouble for some reason in lieu of answering.  

Unless the officer has established probable cause, you can politely decline a search of your vehicle. Even without establishing probable case, some law enforcement officers may continue with a search. If this happens, it is best to cooperate and allow the search to occur.

You believe your vehicle has been illegally searched – what do you do now?

If the law enforcement officers did not have reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop and probable cause to justify the search your vehicle, then the search may have been illegal. Any evidence secured during an illegal search may be suppressed, which can significantly benefit your criminal defense arguments.

If you believe your vehicle has been unlawfully searched, it is vital that you reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you understand your rights and object to the illegal search. At the Law Offices of William B. Bennett, we are ready to review your case and walk you through the next steps to challenge any illegally obtained evidence and to present your strongest defense at trial. Call us today at (727) 821-8000 or contact us on our website here. We are ready to serve you.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense Law