Before the police can arrest you for the contents of your vehicle during a traffic stop, they need to have the legal authority to do so. When the police do not acquire evidence in a legal manner, any evidence they may have collected may be inadmissible in court. In order to defend your rights against illegal traffic searches, you need to know what conditions allow an officer to search your vehicle, such as:
The quickest way police can search a vehicle is by gaining permission. When a driver does not consent to a search, police officers have a way of indirectly asking permission to search a vehicle. If an officer alludes to searching your vehicle and you do not consent to a search, make it clear in no uncertain terms that you do not consent to the search.
If the police have a reasonable suspicion that incriminating evidence exists in your vehicle, they have probable cause. In these cases, a police officer can conduct a search of a vehicle without the consent of the driver. Some examples of probable cause include being able to see drug paraphernalia or weapons through a car window or smelling drugs from the vehicle. Police also need probable cause to pull you over in the first place.
If the police officer who pulled you over believes that searching your vehicle is necessary to protect themselves, they can conduct a search. A common situation where this happens is if the police suspect that you have a concealed weapon in your possession.
After an arrest
When conducting an arrest, police officers gather evidence against you to strengthen their case. This means they have the legal authority to search the scene of the arrest for further evidence to use against you, including your vehicle.
What to do during an illegal search
If you suspect that a police officer is conducting an illegal search, do not interfere with their search. If you do, they may press charges against you, which can make your situation worse. Instead, record the search if possible, and wait to speak with an attorney about what you can do to hold them accountable.