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Can a police officer search your car during a traffic stop?

If you are ever pulled over by a police officer for a minor traffic violation, you may be wondering under what circumstances they can then conduct a search of your car. Since your car is your personal space, a search inside the car is considered intruding on your privacy and there are specific rules police must follow before they can legally do a search.

If the police want to conduct a search of your car, you may feel less like they believe you are hiding something and feel more like you need to prove that you are not hiding something. The good news is, you have a right to your privacy under the fourth amendment and do not need to feel inclined to prove your innocence. Whatever intuition a police officer may have for wanting to do a search, they will not be able to legally conduct one unless they have a warrant.

However, there are exceptions where a police officer can conduct a search of your vehicle without first obtaining a warrant.

Probable cause

An officer may have probable cause to conduct a search of your vehicle if they feel a crime has been or is currently being committed. Common examples could be the smell of drugs emanating from the car or if your car matches a description of a suspect they are searching for.

You give consent

If you consent to have your personal space searched by a police officer, then they will not be violating your rights. Most of the time an officer will ask to do a search if they feel there is something to be gained. There is no need to try and figure out during the stop if the officer has probable cause to do a search, you can always remain silent or politely refuse any search requests.

The officer sees or hears something

If during the stop a police officer can plainly see drug paraphernalia or other illegal items inside the car, they will have cause to investigate further with a search. A search of the car can also take place if an officer hears pleas or cries for help from inside the car.

Post-arrest search

If you are arrested after being pulled over, an officer will also have the right to search your car. Since your vehicle will be part of an alleged crime, the officer will be able to gain access and search for additional evidence relating to the arrest.

If you are ever pulled over and an officer conducts a search of your vehicle without a warrant or your consent, it is important not to put yourself in harm’s way by yelling or being physical with the officer. You should continue to let the officer know you do not consent to the search and you should contact an attorney as soon as possible who can assist you in filing a misconduct complaint.

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Thomas G. Fallis, P.A.
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Jacksonville, FL 32204

Phone: 904-717-6684
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