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Can law enforcement search your car without a warrant?

On Behalf of | Nov 5, 2020 | Criminal Law |

Seeing those blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror may cause you anxiety and stress. You may feel especially uneasy if the law enforcement officer who stops you wants to look around your vehicle. Understanding what your rights are under these circumstances may help you avoid landing in trouble.

You may know that authorities are not able to search your home unless they are in possession of a warrant. Things are a bit different, though, when they ask to search your vehicle.

Probable cause

Unlike when they make a request to search your home, authorities do not have to have a warrant to search your car, truck or van. Instead, they need to have something called probable cause. Probable cause refers to a sign or evidence of you or someone else in your vehicle doing or possessing something illegal.

If your car smells like a particular drug when authorities stop you, this may give them probable cause to search the vehicle. Similarly, if authorities see stolen property on the floor or in the backseat of your vehicle, this may also give them grounds to search the rest of it.

The absence of probable cause

Without probable cause, you retain the right to refuse a search of your vehicle. If you plan to exercise it, be loud and clear about it while remaining polite and cordial at the same time. Tell the officer on the scene that you do not consent to a search.

Keep in mind, though, that authorities may use certain language or word their questions in particular ways to get you to offer consent. By holding your ground and knowing your rights, you should be able to avoid having your vehicle searched when authorities lack probable cause needed to do so.