“So, I Have to Let the Officer Search My Car, Right?”
In this part of the world, let’s be honest…most of us are very respectful of law enforcement and the sometime difficult jobs that our police, sheriff’s deputies, and DPS troopers do on a daily basis. So, it only makes sense that most of us, when asked for consent to search our vehicles during a traffic stop, would feel strange about denying such a request. Not to mention, most people probably feel like refusing a search will make law enforcement more suspicious of what you might be doing or what you might have in your vehicle.
You should know that you have important constitutional rights that should not be relinquished based on an emotional response. The Fourth Amendment was designed to protect the privacy of the citizenry and avoid arbitrary government involvement in our affairs. This important constitutional provision reads, as follows:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Essentially, this means a search/seizure only occurs lawfully when done pursuant to a warrant after the officer convinces a judge that there is probable cause you have committed a crime or, alternatively, there are circumstances which justify the search without a warrant.
In the Course of a Traffic Stop, Can Law Enforcement Search My Vehicle?
Absent a search warrant, reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based on probable cause, or you giving consent to search, no legal search can occur. Although it may seem disrespectful or uncooperative to you, you have a right, when asked whether your car can be searched, to say no. Be firm, but also be respectful and courteous. In the event that the officer seems to be prolonging the stop to possibly develop or find a reason to search, politely ask if you are being detained and, if not, whether you are free to go. On the other hand, should you be detained, do not hesitate to exercise your additional Constitutional rights under the 5th and 6th amendments and advise the officer, “I choose to remain silent and only speak with an attorney.”
What Do I Do If Law Enforcement Searches My Vehicle and an Arrest Occurs?
In the event that proper procedure was not followed and/or your constitutional rights were violated, the law commonly known as “the exclusionary rule” may apply in your situation. This means that if the criminal court determines that an unreasonable search or seizure occurred, any and all evidence located during the search is inadmissible and unavailable to prove your guilt. Should you find yourself in such a situation, give our firm a call for an evaluation of your particular case and protection of your rights.