A viewing of law enforcement related television shows and movies often demonstrates the common practice of requesting to search a vehicle. People are stopped, questioned and often have their vehicles searched, seemingly routinely. You should know that you do have rights when it comes to searches of your personal property. Read on to learn more about searches that could be conducted without a warrant and what is and is not permitted.
Asking for permission to conduct a search: You may encounter law enforcement personnel who ask you for permission to search your vehicle. What prompts these requests are somewhat of a mystery, although in some cases the police reveal that they had good reason for the request. What most people fail to take into account when an incident like this occurs is that if the officer is asking permission, you then have the right to refuse the search. In other words, if the suspicions that there is a good reason to conduct the search are compelling enough, they would not even be asking. That point brings up the next factor in warrantless search issues.
Having the grounds to search: If the officer observes anything suspicious from a casual and plain sight viewing of your vehicle, then law enforcement has the right to conduct a search regardless of your permission. The legal term for this is called "probable cause", and anything the officer can see (or smell) from outside of the car can produce the probable cause. For example, if the officer observes a crack pipe laying on the seat, they then have grounds to conduct the search for more drug paraphernalia and perhaps illegal drugs and weapons.
When the officer can clearly see something illegal in full view, the search is said to be conducted in "incident to arrest". The search is connected to the illegal, or potentially illegal, item being viewed from outside the vehicle. If you disagree with the search, be sure to say so. Your vehicle may still be searched, but at least you are "on the record" as having objected.
When you get pulled over by law enforcement: Knowing what your rights are and how to handle a police stop could come in handy.
- When asked whether or not you will give permission to a search of your vehicle, you may politely refuse that request. For example, you may say "Officer, I respect you and realize that you have a job to do, but I do not want to give you permission to search my car. I would like to be allowed to continue on my way". Never leave a roadside stop without the officer's permission, however.
- If you get arrested, you still the right to state that you are refusing to consent to a search.
- Other than giving the officer your name and showing identification, you do not have to say anything at all to the officer.
Be sure to speak to a criminal defense attorney for help if you find yourself arrested for any reason. Often, a scrutiny of procedures could be called for and may end up reducing or dropping your charges.