Let’s say you get pulled over by a police officer for a cracked taillight or an outdated registration. It seems like a fairly routine traffic stop until the officer wants to search your vehicle. You are caught totally off-guard. You’re scared even though you have absolutely nothing in your car that is illegal or even objectionable. Should you refuse to let the officer do a search or allow it?
Knowing beforehand what to do in this situation can save you a lot of headaches if it ever happens to you.
The police officer must have probable cause
That means that the officer must either view or sniff something illegal, such as weapons or drugs. Or else you have to admit being guilty of some crime for the officer to conduct a legal search of the car.
Having a damaged tail light, a registration past its expiration date or exceeding the speed limit do not constitute probable cause.
How should you conduct yourself in this situation?
By following these steps, you can keep trouble to a minimum.
- Stop your car in a safe place on the roadside and shut off the engine. Have both hands where the officer can see them grasping the steering wheel. Put the overhead light in the passenger compartment on.
- Don’t be belligerent, argumentative or combative with the officer. That attitude will only step up the tension unnecessarily. Act pleasant and resist the urge to be antagonistic.
- Say nothing or as little as you can in response to the officer’s questions.
- You may refuse to permit a search because you are protected by the 4th Amendment. Simply state that you decline.
- Ask the officer if it’s alright for you to depart from the scene.
Were your rights violated?
If there has been an infringement upon your rights when an incident like this took place between you and an officer, it might be worth considering your legal options.