Do I Have to Let an Officer Search My Car If I Get Pulled Over? 

 July 27, 2015

By  LMW Attorneys

There are more than 13.6 million licensed drivers in the state of Florida alone, yet many drivers do not know their rights if they are stopped by a police officer while driving. But when it comes to operating a vehicle, it is important to know when an officer can and cannot search your car. Learn more here.

How the Fourth Amendment Protects Drivers

Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, individuals are protected against unlawful search and seizure. This means that under the Fourth Amendment, arbitrary searches of a vehicle conducted by police are illegal.

When Can an Officer Legally Conduct a Search?

In order to legally search your vehicle, the police need one of the following:

A Warrant: Consider this hypothetical scenario; Riley is pulled over for speeding. The officer writes him a speeding ticket and asks to search his vehicle. Riley does not give his consent to the officer and the officer does not have any reason to believe a crime was committed. In this scenario, the officer cannot search Riley’s car unless he acquires a search warrant.

Consent: An example of consent is seen in this hypothetical scenario. Riley is pulled over by an officer because his car has a broken headlight. The officer writes him a ticket for the headlight, but also notices a strange white substance on the driver’s seat of Riley’s car. He asks Riley if he can conduct a search of his car and he agrees. Although the officer did not have a warrant, because Riley gave his permission, the officer can legally search the car.

Probable Cause: In many cases, police officers will search an individual’s car because they have probable cause. In Florida, probable cause refers to any facts or evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe a crime was committed. Consider the same scenario above, but that Riley does not give consent. Because the white substance in question is in plain view, the officer has probable cause that Riley is in possession of an illegal substance and can legally search his vehicle.

In addition to the above, a police officer can also search a vehicle if the suspect has been arrested and the search is related to that charge (for example, a past drug charge). A police officer can also search your vehicle if they believe they are in danger and not conducting a search would jeopardize their safety.

Call the Attorneys of Laporte, Mulligan & Werner-Watkins

Driving is a big responsibility, so it is important for all licensed drivers to understand their rights. At Laporte, Mulligan & Werner-Watkins, we can help. If you believe you were involved in an illegal search or seizure when pulled over for your vehicle, contact us today. Our legal team will work diligently to defend your rights and guide you through this trying time. Call our offices today at 727-478-4125 or schedule a free consultation.