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Illegal Search: What you Need to Know During a Traffic Stop


Just because you're pulled over for a traffic violation, doesn't give police the right to search your vehicle. In order to search your car, police have to have probable cause. Probable cause is the "reasonable belief" that a person has committed a crime or that illegal activity will occur. Some examples of probable cause are illegal items in plain sight or an admission of guilt.

A traffic violation alone cannot justify your car being searched. Here are a few things you need to know about illegal searches.

What Makes a Search Illegal

First and foremost: Unless an officer has probable cause, your car cannot be searched without your consent. Refusing a search is not an admission of guilt. If the officer searches your car without your consent, then that search is illegal. If you are asked to step out of your car, the officer may look inside, but without probable cause, the officer cannot go through your trunk or glove compartment.

You Have the Right to Refuse a Search

The Fourth Amendment protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. Even if you don't have anything to hide, you don’t have to allow an officer to search your car. If asked, tell the officer calmly and clearly that you refuse a warrantless search.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Besides asking for your license and registration, the officer might ask questions like, "Do you know why I pulled you over?" or "Why are you in such a hurry?". These questions and others like it are some ways that officers may try to get you admit guilt. Along with being polite, keep your answers short and non-committal. If an officer asks you if you know why you were pulled over, answer, "No". You don’t have to have a friendly chat with an officer. You can simply say, "I choose not to answer that question". And remember, all passengers in your car have the same rights.

What Should You Do if Your Car is Illegally Searched?

If your car is searched even after refusal, do not try to physically stop the officer. Regardless of if anything illegal is found or not, you should contact your lawyer.

Once you are given your ticket, you don't have to remain with the officer longer than it takes to write the ticket. Unless you are arrested or detained, always ask the officer if you are free to go. Do not linger once you're told that you can leave.

If you were arrested due to evidence seized through an illegal search, contact The Law Offices of Steven Fine for a free consultation.