Seeing blue lights appear in your rear-view mirror may cause you stress and anxiety even if you are not doing anything against the law. In some cases, a traffic stop may lead to a request from law enforcement officers to search your vehicle, and if it does, it may serve you well to know your rights in such a situation.
According to FlexYourRights.org, a law enforcement officer’s ability to search your car depends not so much on whether he or she has a warrant, which is necessary to search your home, but rather, whether probable cause exists. What is probable cause, and how does it help determine whether a search of your vehicle is lawful?
Defining “probable cause”
Probable cause refers to something an officer observes that gives him or her a valid reason to believe illegal activity is taking place. If a strong smell of a particular drug emanates from your vehicle, know that this may constitute probable cause.
If you make omissions in the presence of the officer about something in the vehicle, this, may, too, warrant a lawful search.
Observing an officer’s language
Without a warrant or probable cause, you are within your rights to refuse a search of your vehicle. If you wish to exercise it, tell the officer on scene that you are exercising your Fourth Amendment protection and refusing to consent to a search.
Be careful, though. An officer may phrase the request in a tricky way, saying something like, “You do not mind if I look around your car, right?” before attempting to do so. Make sure to express your wishes loudly and clearly if you do not consent to have your vehicle searched.