When the police want to bring charges against you, they will sometimes go to great lengths to gather evidence against you. They might ask to search your vehicle, which might change a traffic stop from a frustrating situation that causes a ticket into an arrest that can change your life.
When might the police be able to legally search your vehicle and use what they find during that search against you in court?
When you give them permission
The police officer who stops your vehicle will often ask for permission to look through it. They may ask in a very casual way in the hope that you will simply give them permission.
Once you do, they can tear through your vehicle until they find something to justify continuing to search. Generally, all drivers have the right to refuse a search of their vehicle without providing a reason for refusing.
When they have probable cause
Police officers don’t always need permission to search private property. When they notice something that makes them suspect criminal activity, they may have probable cause to conduct a search.
The smell of drugs, visible open containers of alcohol or weapons that violate state law could all be probable cause for a police officer searching a vehicle without permission.
When they have a warrant
Sometimes, when police officers believe that criminal activity took place in a vehicle, they might be able to get a warrant to search the vehicle for evidence of criminal activity. If a police officer searches without probable cause, permission or a warrant, the evidence that they find may not help them in court.
Understanding the laws that limit police activity and whether the actions around your arrest were legal can help determine your criminal defense strategy.