When police pull you over for a traffic violation, it is normal to feel a little nervous. After all, even a routine infraction can potentially result in fines and risky points on your license. Some who find themselves in this situation take a defiant stand and may even treat the officer with disrespect. Others may do the opposite and comply with anything the officer asks just to prove they have nothing to hide.
Either of these tactics can lead to trouble in certain circumstances, especially if police ask to search your vehicle. The best way to deal with a situation like this is to be prepared, know your rights and understand what might happen if you allow police to search your vehicle without a warrant.
Exceptions to the rule
Your Fourth Amendment rights prohibit police from randomly searching your vehicle looking for a reason to arrest you, just as they cannot come into your home without a reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring. You have the right to protection against these unlawful searches, but it is important to know that several circumstances can provide police with an opening to search even if they do not have a warrant, including the following:
- Police may search when they have probable cause to believe your vehicle contains evidence of a crime, such as if the officer smells marijuana or a drug dog alerts to the presence of an illegal substance.
- If officers place you under arrest, they may search your vehicle for items related to your arrest.
- Police may search when illegal items, such as an open container of alcohol, drugs or weapons, are in plain sight.
- If the traffic stop results in the impoundment of your vehicle, police may search it to inventory its contents.
- Police who believe your vehicle may contain something that places them or others at risk, such as a weapon, have the right to search without a warrant.
Perhaps the most common reason why police may perform a warrantless search is because drivers grant permission. This is rarely a wise idea, and officers may try to convince you it is in your best interests to allow them to look inside your vehicle. However, you can never be certain of what police may find or claim to find in their search. This is why it is wise to politely refuse to allow police to search without a warrant.
Police who violate your rights by performing a warrantless search without probable cause may find evidence that may be inadmissible in court. A skilled Texas attorney can evaluate your case and examine the circumstances surrounding the search to build a strong defense strategy.