When you see flashing lights in your rear-view mirror, you may sense a sudden panic. Your mind may race to figure out what you did wrong that caused the police to pull you over. In the end, it may be something simple like a broken taillight, you missed a stop sign or you were going over the speed limit.
Why would the police officer ask to examine the inside of your car for a seemingly simple traffic violation? It may seem unnecessary, even if you drove significantly over the speed limit. Would you know how to respond to such a request?
Mind if I just take a look?
Unless you are crossing a border or entering a secure facility, an officer does not have the right to search your vehicle without a warrant or probable cause. Probable cause can be drugs or alcohol in plain view in the car or other evidence that you may be involved in a crime. Even if you know you are innocent, agreeing to a search of your car without probable cause may bring you trouble, for example:
- Police may find something you did not know was in your car, such as drugs a friend stashed there or something you accidentally dragged in on your shoes.
- If your case ends up in court, evidence found in your car is more likely to be admissible if you consent to the search.
- Officers aren't interested in protecting your property. There is a good chance your property could end up damaged or misplaced during the search.
- A search of your vehicle may take 30 minutes or longer.
Keeping your composure and politely refusing the search is within your rights. Police may search your vehicle even if you refuse to give permission, but if they find something during a warrantless search, chances are better that the search and its fruits will be inadmissible in court.
Knowing and protecting your rights
Texas police frequently request permission to search vehicles during routine traffic stops. If you misinterpret the request as a command, you may unknowingly forfeit your rights. The search that follows may place you in a difficult position.
Having legal counsel from the earliest possible moment will allow for a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding your arrest. Your attorney will protect your rights and build a strong defense that may begin with the exclusion of the warrantless search and any evidence that resulted from the search.