Police officers are so adamant and proactive in their search for guns and drugs to the point that they sometimes forget their constitutional limitations. Such was the case when the police dog, Nero, found drugs in a vehicle at a traffic stop. The dog’s enthusiasm led him to put his paws on the car, which the Supreme Court later ruled was a violation of the driver’s constitutional rights.
The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches. So, what exactly makes a search reasonable?
When can the police search my car?
Police usually need to obtain a warrant before they can search you or your property. However, during a traffic stop, police officers only need probable cause for the search to be reasonable. Probable cause implies that the police officers have evidence linking you or your vehicle to criminal activity. They cannot search your vehicle based on a hunch without substantial facts to support the search. Here are examples of probable cause:
- The smell of alcohol
- Empty bottles or cans of alcohol in plain sight
- Firearms in plain sight
- Controlled substances in plain sight
- The smell of marijuana
- An admission of guilt
You should also know you have the right to remain silent because police officers can use anything you say against you. If you admit to a specific crime, you give the officer probable cause. Remember, minor violations do not amount to probable cause. An officer cannot search your vehicle simply because you were speeding.
You have the right to refuse a search
If an officer does not have probable cause or a warrant, they cannot search your vehicle unless you consent. Politely tell the officer you wish to invoke your rights and that you do not permit them to conduct a search.