When can the police search my car and should I let them.
Being stopped by the police for any reason can be a nerve wracking experience even for someone who is not doing anything wrong. Add to that the guilt that comes with having been found breaking the law, the typical driver is not in the proper frame of mind to assert his or her rights at the time of the stop.
What you need to remember when you are stopped by the police is that we all have rights granted to us by the constitution and these cannot be taken away from us. One of these rights was granted to us by the fourth amendment. It guarantees the right to be free from illegal searches and seizures.
When you are stopped by the police for any reason, it is important to remember that they are not just allowed to search your vehicle for no reason. The majority of the searches of vehicles that the police conduct are lawful because the owner of the vehicle (that’s you) granted them permission to search the vehicle.
The police may tell you that this will all be easier if you let them search your vehicle or may try to intimidate you into letting them search your vehicle, and while you should always always ALWAYS be nice and polite to the police, you do not have to give them permission to search your vehicle.
You do not have to allow the police to search your vehicle, and they cannot do it over your objection unless they have “probable cause” (or a warrant). Probable cause is a somewhat vague term in the legal field, but it basically means the police have to have some good reason to suspect that you are up to something illegal. It is like a hunch of the officer but backed up by reasonable suspicion.
The police could have probable cause to search your vehicle as a result of your behavior, your appearance, or the appearance of your vehicle. For example, a smell coming from you (or the car) or slowed reflexes may indicate to the officer that you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and he or she would likely have probable cause to search your car. Also, if you throw something out of the window or hide something under the seat, the officer will be able to search your vehicle.
Being stopped for a speeding ticket or an expired license or other minor traffic violations is not probable cause.
The two most common ways that the police get probable cause is to see contraband in plain view in your vehicle, or by smelling the contraband (or smelling the results of its use). In order to be sure the police do not to have probable cause to search your vehicle, don’t have or do anything illegal in your vehicle (or anywhere else, but especially not in your vehicle).
If for some reason you do come into possession of something that may be frowned upon by the police, make sure it is not in plain view from outside of the car. To minimize what is in plain view, if the officer asks you to get out of the car, it is wise to close the door to the car as you exit. Keeping anything of questionable legality in the glove compartment or the trunk is much better advice than to keep it in the interior of the car, where ir could be in plain view. However, this strategy is far from foolproof.
In reality, if the police have probable cause, they have probable cause to search for specific items, not specific parts of a vehicle. So for example if the police had probable cause to believe that you were in possession of marijuana, they can look for any place that marijuana could be hidden. This includes the locked glove compartment, trunk, or any other containers in your vehicle.
But remember, the police have to have probable cause to search any part of your vehicle unless you give them permission to search it. And you don’t have to let them.