No one likes being pulled over by the cops, and many people are not aware of the rights they have at a traffic stop.
Police officers must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over. This is a low standard. Reasonable suspicion means the officers have a reasonable belief that you are committing a crime, have committed a crime or are about to commit a crime.
Not without a search warrant
Speeding or running a red light can give police officers reasonable suspicion. However, they cannot search your vehicle for drugs or any other items without a search warrant.
Since traffic stops are typically based on a police officer’s observations in that moment, they do not have time to get a search warrant before the stop.
When they can search without a warrant
There are a few situations where the officers can search your vehicle for drugs without a warrant. Probable cause allows them to perform a search without a warrant.
Police officers have probable cause when they learn sufficient facts that cause them to believe a crime has been committed or that specific property is associated with a crime. For example, if the officers smell marijuana in your vehicle during the traffic stop, this could give them probable cause to search the vehicle.
Plain view is another exception to the requirement to obtain a search warrant. If the drugs are sitting on your passenger seat and the officer sees them as soon as he looks into your vehicle, he can search your vehicle.
Consenting to a search
Police officers do not need a warrant if you give them permission to search your vehicle or if you are arrested. Once you are arrested, they may perform a search.
Do not let the officers coerce or threaten you into giving consent to search. Your permission must be given freely and voluntarily.
If none of these exceptions exist, the police officers cannot search your vehicle for drugs. Doing so would be an illegal search and seizure and any evidence they discover would be illegally obtained.
It is important to protect your rights at a traffic stop. The penalties of a criminal conviction are serious, and you must put on an aggressive defense.