In general, the police want to catch as many criminals as they can and successfully build cases against the people they arrest. In their eagerness to uphold the law, they may sometimes inadvertently impact the lives of innocent people.
For example, a police officer could hold you accountable for something left in your vehicle by someone in your carpool group or a previous owner. Items ranging from weapons to drug paraphernalia could result in your arrest after the police search your vehicle. There could be items in your vehicle that you don’t know about, especially if you haven’t cleaned it carefully recently.
When can a police officer search your vehicle during the traffic stop?
Officers need probable cause to search your vehicle
You have the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy and also the right to be free from unreasonable searches. A police officer going through your vehicle because they pulled you over for speeding would be unreasonable.
However, if they have probable cause to suspect a crime or evidence of a crime in your vehicle, then they can potentially search without a warrant. Anything that an officer sees, hears or even smells that indicates criminal activity could give an officer the probable cause they need to detain you while they search your vehicle.
Officers can also search if you give them your consent
Establishing probable cause for a vehicle search isn’t as easy as the police might wish it were, so they often need another way to look through your vehicle. They can obtain access and the right to search by tricking you into giving them permission. Police officers often try their best to convince people to waive their rights, often to their detriment.
They might word a request to search your vehicle in a way that makes you think you don’t have a choice, or they may try to make things seem casual so that you give permission without considering the consequences.
Understanding when an officer can search your vehicle could help you potentially defend yourself against a criminal charge, especially if the police violated your rights in their attempt to gather evidence against you.