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Do I Have to Consent to a Search of My Vehicle?

PoliceSearch

You are driving along Magnolia Avenue in Orlando when you see those red and blue sirens start to flash. A police officer is pulling you over. Are you required to consent to a search of your vehicle?

This is a frequently asked question and an important one. In general, police need to obtain a warrant to conduct a search of you or your vehicle. However, in the context of a traffic stop, they only require probable cause to initiate a search.

You may be asking yourself, “what is probable cause?” Well, it is rooted in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It means a police officer, in order to conduct a search or arrest you, must have a reasonable basis to believe you violated the law or there was evidence of a violation of the law, according to the Legal Information Institute. In other words, the officer must observe some action, or inaction, on your part that creates a reasonable basis that a search needs to be conducted. Examples of probable cause include the following:

  • You or your vehicle smells of alcohol
  • You are displaying characteristics of intoxication (e.g., blood shot eyes)
  • You have an open container in the officer’s plain view
  • You have other contraband or illegal substances in the officer’s plain view

In the traffic stop context, it is important to remember that if you are pulled over for a minor traffic violation like speeding or a broken tail-light, an officer does not have probable cause to conduct a more invasive search on that basis alone.

Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent

In some instances, a police officer may try to get you to admit violating the law in order to create a basis to conduct a search. For example, an officer may ask, “Do you remember how many drinks you consumed tonight?” In this situation, you have the ability to assert your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. This means you can refuse to admit that you may, or may not, have violated the law. 

Refusing a Search Request is Allowed

A common tactic used by police is trying to get you to voluntarily consent to a search. For example, an officer may ask, “You don’t mind if I take a look in your car, do you?” This is a request disguised as a command. Do not fall for it.

You can politely refuse by saying “Officer, I understand you are doing your job, but I will not voluntarily consent to a search.” Always remember that the Fourth Amendment protects your right to refuse a request for a search by Law Enforcement. Deciding to refuse a search request is not an admission of guilt and, generally, cannot be used against you in court. 

Speak to an Experienced Orlando Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one is confronting criminal charges due to a traffic-related matter such as a DUI, contact the legal team at Cotter & Zelman, P.A. in Orlando. We defend clients against a wide range of charges and are ready to help you. Contact our office today to schedule a case review.

Resource:

law.cornell.edu/wex/probable_cause

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