A traffic or moving violation stop is not an automatic green light to search your vehicle. In fact, a search of your vehicle in certain circumstances could pose a major violation of your Constitutional rights! The most important goal of every police interaction is to get home unharmed, and some preparation on your part will help protect your safety – and your rights.
What Constitutional Right Protects Me Against a Bogus Search?
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution states:
“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.”
What does that mean for someone stopped by police? The Fourth Amendment provides protections against a search of your property – including your vehicle – without probable cause and due process of law. Your vehicle is not as safe against search or seizure as your house; the police generally need a warrant to search your home but do not need a warrant to search your car during a traffic stop. Still, the requirement of probable cause protects you in your vehicle.
What is Probable Cause?
Probable cause means that a police officer has a demonstrably reasonable suspicion that your car contains something illegal or that you may be in the process of committing a crime. That reasonable suspicion is more than a hunch: the cop has to observe something in your vehicle to make him or her believe you’re in possession of something illegal or are committing a crime.
That might mean that the cop sees or thinks he sees open containers of alcohol, evidence of drugs or drug paraphernalia, weapons, or other suspicious materials. Probable cause and reasonable suspicion aren’t just for what the cops can see – an odor of marijuana or strong alcohol smell might give them the excuse they need to search your vehicle. In order to have a valid reason to search your vehicle, the cops must be able to observe these items or behaviors from outside the vehicle.
Planning Ahead for Possible Police Encounters
Keeping your vehicle clean and tidy will prevent the cops from claiming that they see something suspicious in your vehicle. When possible, transport groceries, bags, and other items in a trunk or cargo area. If you’re concerned about specific items or possessions, keep them out of sight in a console or glove compartment. At the very least, keep them covered by clothing or a towel. Always wear your seatbelt, maintain your vehicle in good order, and keep your vehicle registration current so that the police do not have a valid reason to initiate a traffic stop in the first place.
What to Do When You Get Pulled Over
When you’re pulled over by the cops, park your car and turn off the ignition, keeping your hands in sight on the steering wheel. The police officer will give their name and the department they represent and then give a reason for the stop. If an officer does not give a reason for the stop, you should request a reason for the stop. Remain calm and only answer questions regarding the reason for the traffic stop. Follow the officer’s instructions; if you’re going to reach for your wallet, license, insurance information, or registration, you should let the officer know where the items are and that you’re reaching for them.
Sometimes, cops looking for a reason to search your vehicle may attempt to intimidate you, ask confusing questions, or raise their voice to tempt you to make a mistake. Remain as calm and collected as you can. If you’re ordered out of a vehicle, you have every right to close your door behind you and lock it to prevent a search without your consent or probable cause. You also have the right to deny a request to search your vehicle. If your police encounter becomes dangerous to you or to others, it is best to comply with orders and prevent harm or injury during an arrest. Make mental notes of the circumstances and try to confirm that an officer’s body cam or dashcam are recording. It’s best to get through a police encounter unharmed and consult an attorney about your Constitutional rights as soon as possible.
The Bobby Digby Law Firm Will Fight For Your Rights
If you or someone you know has been stopped by police and forced to comply with a bogus search, contact the Bobby Digby Law Firm today. Your rights are protected by the Constitution of the United States, and Bobby Digby will fight to make sure they’re respected by the cops.