A traffic stop is often a stressful experience, and if the law enforcement officer who stops you wants to search your car, you may not know when you have the right to refuse. Many people think that authorities only have the right to search your vehicle when they are in possession of a warrant. However, this is not always the case.
Ultimately, whether the law enforcement officer who stops you may be able to search your car depends on whether he or she has probable cause to do so. What does that mean?
Situations that may give authorities probable cause
Suspecting you may have something illegal in your vehicle is not enough for a law enforcement officer to search your vehicle if you do not consent to such a search. To move forward with a search when you refuse it, the officer must have evidence or facts that point toward you having or doing something illegal.
If something illegal is visible to the officer, he or she may consider this probable cause. Admitting to having something in the vehicle may also fall under the probable cause umbrella.
Situations that do not constitute probable cause
If authorities stop you initially because you are speeding or driving with an expired registration, such offenses, on their own, do not constitute probable cause. Other minor traffic violations, such as driving with a tail light out, do not, either. In the absence of probable cause or a warrant, you do not have to allow authorities to search your vehicle. However, you should never expect them to tell you as much.