Can a police officer search my car during a routine traffic stop? 11 Answers as of October 19, 2010

If I get pulled over for speeding or running a stoplight, can the police search my car without a warrant or my consent? What are my rights?

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Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
The police cannot search you or your belongings (car, backpack etc.) without probable cause. Stopping you for speeding or running a light is not enough cause. Smelling weed or seeing a gun is cause.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 10/19/2010
Nelson & Lawless
Nelson & Lawless | Terry Nelson
Yes he can if he can justify reasonable cause for concern for his safety, or suspicion of contraband. If you are arrested as a result, then you can raise all available defenses with whatever admissible and credible witnesses, evidence and facts are available for legal arguments for various suppression motions, plea bargaining or at trial. If you don't know how to do these things, then hire an attorney that does, who will try to get a decent plea bargain for you. If serious about doing so, feel free to contact me.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 10/18/2010
Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan
Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan | Geoffrey M. Yaryan
No, a police officer must have probable cause to believe evidence of a crime is located in your car or have your consent to search.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 10/16/2010
Law Office of Marc K. Herbert
Law Office of Marc K. Herbert | Marc K. Herbert
Without consent of the driver, a police officer can only search your car if he has "probable cause" or if he sees evidence in plain view.

Probable cause means that the behavior of the driver or passengers would lead a reasonable person to believe that there is evidence or something illegal in the car. For example, the police officer can look for open containers while conducting a DUI stop.

If an object (such as a weapon) can be clearly seen from outside the vehicle, the officer can search inside the vehicle to recover it.

You have an absolute right to refuse to give consent for a search of your vehicle during a routine traffic stop.

Unfortunately, some officers will conduct an illegal car search and then claim that the driver consented to the search. If you have no witnesses, it's your word against the officer and his partner.

Your attorney should file a motion to suppress any evidence seized from your car during an illegal car search. If the motion is granted, the case against you will probably be dismissed by the judge.

Once the case is over, you may also want to file a complaint against the arresting officer in case he/she continues to violate the rights of other drivers.

If you would like to talk about your case in more detail, please call my office.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 10/16/2010
Law Office of Jeff Yeh
Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
A police officer may search your car if it is "incidental" to a lawful arrest. An example where it would not be incidental is if you were pulled over for speeding, and the cop searched your trunk. This would be totally unrelated and not incidental to the lawful arrest for speeding. Of course, if the cop asked you for consent, and you said yes, then that would be different. An example where it probably WOULD be incidental is if the cop pulled you over for speeding, smelled marijuana after talking to you, and then decided to search your trunk.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 10/15/2010
    Desert Defenders
    Desert Defenders | John Jimenez
    NO! A police officer does not have the right to search your vehicle without a warrant, consent or probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime in the car. If evidence of a crime was found after an illegal search, you could move to suppress the evidence in court as the fruit of an illegal search, and have the case dismissed.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    Alanna D. Coopersmith, Attorney at Law
    Alanna D. Coopersmith, Attorney at Law | Alanna D. Coopersmith
    No. They would need a warrant, your consent, or during the traffic stop to develop reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime is in the vehicle.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    The Law Office of Sam Salhab
    The Law Office of Sam Salhab | Samer Salhab
    The answer is no and there are very few exceptions! Please feel free to contact my office to discuss your options through a free consultation.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
    Law Office of Joe Dane
    Law Office of Joe Dane | Joe Dane
    The law of search and seizure (Fourth Amendment) can be convoluted. Most importantly, it is very fact and case specific.

    The general rule is that there must be probable cause to search. For a routine traffic stop - without anything else - there usually is not sufficient evidence to allow a search without your consent. They are allowed to do a "protective sweep" or a "pat down" of the car if there are reasons to believe you are armed with a weapon or something that can be used as a weapon during the traffic stop. Of course, if there are additional facts, that can change. For example, if they smelled marijuana coming from the car, they may be able to search to see where the marijuana is. Same thing with the smell of alcohol.

    Warrantless searches must be justified by the police and prosecution in a motion to suppress the evidence in court. They must show consent or another legally recognized exception to the warrant requirement.

    What are your rights? You are always free to decline a request to search your car (and your home, person and belongings). If they have a warrant or otherwise state they are going to search anyway, do not agree with them. Firmly, but politely express your lack of consent. If they search anyway and the search is later determined to be without probable cause, any evidence they find is subject to being suppressed. Do not physically resist. Let the law work in court. The side of the road is not the place to debate the police about the Fourth Amendment.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/15/2010
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