We have been discussing common questions about criminal law.
Today’s Topic: Can the police search my vehicle if they pull me over?
If you have been pulled over for a minor traffic violation, ordinarily the police may not search your vehicle for other contraband even if you are arrested for the ticket. The important question to ask when determining if the officer may search a vehicle is whether the original citation encounter has ended. If the citation encounter has ended the police typically have no right to search your vehicle. Once the citation has been issued the police officer must have probable cause to search your vehicle.
Probable cause is usually defined as a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. That means that given the facts and circumstances available to the police officer at the time, a reasonable person would be satisfied that a crime had been committed.
If the police officer has probable cause to believe that a crime other than the traffic citation has occurred, then that police officer may generally search the vehicle. However, police officers may not search vehicles simply because the occupants were arrested or cited for a traffic violation. The search must bear some relationship to the citation given.
It is also important to note that the police may search a vehicle if they are given permission. As such, it is important for individuals who are pulled over to understand that they may politely refuse an officer’s request to search a vehicle and do not have to give the officer a reason for that refusal.