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What if police ask to search my vehicle?

No matter why a police officer pulls you over, he or she may ask to search your vehicle during the stop. As a general rule, it is usually unwise to consent to an officer searching your vehicle. While not always the case, if a police officer asks to search your vehicle, this means that he or she needs your express permission to legally do so.

Under the 4th Amendment, police may not search a person's vehicle simply because they want to. This violates a person's rights against unreasonable searches or seizures of his or her property. Police may only legally search your vehicle under specific circumstances, or else they may violate your rights and possibly invalidate criminal charges they bring against you.

If you recently received criminal charges after an officer searched your vehicle, you may want to consult with an experienced defense attorney to examine the circumstances of the arrest and identify grounds for a legal defense. Without a strong legal defense, you may suffer serious consequences even if your arresting officer broke the law during your interaction.

When may police search my vehicle?

There are a limited number of instances in which an officer may search your vehicle. While these boundaries are relatively broad, they are still boundaries.

Officers may generally search a vehicle if they:

  • Have a warrant to perform the search
  • Have reason to believe that they must search your vehicle for their own safety, such as reasonable suspicion that your car contains weapons
  • Have probable cause, meaning reason to believe that a search will produce evidence of a crime
  • Have your permission

Once you give your permission to an officer, he or she is free to search your vehicle and produce many kinds of evidence that could incriminate you, even if you do not believe you are guilty of any crime.

If an officer asks to search your vehicle, you may simply say that you do not consent. If the officer continues to question you, you may say that you don't want to answer any more questions without an attorney present. These responses are within your rights.

What do I do if I'm charged?

If you receive criminal charges because of a search of your vehicle, you need to build a strong legal defense as soon as you possibly can. It is generally wise to enlist the help of an attorney who understands the nuances of criminal defense in your county, to account for local, state and federal laws in your defense.

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