I get asked all the time whether the police have the right to search your car if you are stopped for a traffic offense. The answer depends on the facts and circumstances of the stop and what the police encounter when they approach your car. Generally, in order for the police to search your car they need probable cause to believe a crime is bring committed or consent to allow the search. If you are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and the stop is routine the police cannot search your car.
However, if the police stop you for something minor like a tail light being out, and when they approach your car and smell pot, or see something illegal in the car, the car can be searched. Once the police have probable cause to believe a crime is or may be occurring that gives them the right to search your vehicle. They will ask you to get out of the vehicle. They will pat you down to ensure you have no weapons. They will then start to search your car with or without the help of other officials or in some cases dogs can be used. Whatever is found in the car of an illegal nature the police will try to introduce in court as evidence against you.
Additionally, many people consent to a search of their car believing they are required to give permission. Search and seizure law is very complicated. Every case will rest on the specific facts of that case to determine if a search is proper. If the police obtain consent to search, the issues for a legal challenge will become more narrow. If the police ask you to search your car say no. There is no requirement to say yes. By not giving consent it could force them to get a warrant to search your car. By forcing them to get a warrant it increases your options in court to get whatever the police found suppressed.
If your vehicle is searched and you are arrested talk to a criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can for advice on your specific case.
Commentary by Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Yale Galanter:
Yale Galanter, a Miami criminal defense lawyer, has over 30 years of experience providing discreet and aggressive legal counseling to both public figures and clients looking for precise and excellent legal defense. Yale Galanter is known for his personal representation and attention to your criminal matter.
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