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Can a Police Officer Search My Car During a Traffic Stop?

 Posted on August 06, 2018 in DUI

Naperville DUI and traffic violation defense lawyerWhen a driver is pulled over by the police, the first thing the officer is likely to say is, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” A good answer to that is, “I’m not sure. Why?” 

The police officer may have stopped you for a simple traffic violation, such as speeding or running a stop sign. But depending on your behavior and conversation, a police officer could begin to suspect that you are guilty of something more. You do not want to give the officer any reason to start looking for additional violations.

For example, the police might suspect that you were driving under the influence of alcohol, violating the “open container” law, or even using illegal drugs. The officer might then want to search your car, looking for evidence of suspected illegal activity. It is important to know your legal rights in this situation. 

Police Can Look Through Your Car Windows 

Police officers are trained to carefully observe everything they can while standing outside your car and looking in the windows. Anything they can see, smell, or hear could be used as “probable cause” to take further action beyond just issuing a ticket for a traffic violation. This includes open alcohol containers in the passenger compartment, drug paraphernalia, or a smell of alcohol or marijuana. An officer might even overhear passengers whispering to each other about illegal activity of some kind or notice them trying to hide something.

Police May Ask Your Permission to Search Inside the Car

If an officer suspects that you or your passengers may be guilty of something more than the driving violation that led to the traffic stop, they may ask if they can search your car. You do NOT have to consent to a search. There is generally no benefit to consenting to such a search. You should feel free to politely say, “No, I do not consent to a search of my vehicle.”

Police Must Have Probable Cause to Conduct a Search Without Your Permission

A traffic violation alone is NOT sufficient cause for police to search your car. However, the police are legally allowed to search your vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that an additional crime has been committed, such as possession of illegal drugs or stolen property. When probable cause exists, the officer does not need your permission and does not need to obtain a search warrant for a vehicle search.

However, the definition of “probable cause” is often arguable in court. There are fairly strict requirements for when the police may legally search a vehicle that has been stopped for a simple traffic violation. If the search is later deemed improper, any evidence obtained through the search may be inadmissible in court.

What to Do if Police Search Your Car

If an officer informs you that he is going to search your vehicle without your permission, you must step back and allow the search to take place. This is not the time to argue. Your attorney can later evaluate the circumstances and handle any argument over whether the search was valid or invalid.

Do take photographs or write down key details of the incident, including the time and place, the names and badge numbers of the officers involved, and the license plate number of the police car. This information will be helpful for your defense, should you be charged with crimes as a result of the search.

Trust an Experienced Will County DUI Attorney 

If you received a traffic ticket or were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and the police searched your car, you should speak to an experienced Aurora DUI defense attorney at the Law Office of Patricia Magaña, LLC right away. We will study the details of your case to make sure the traffic stop and search were 100% legal; if not, we may be able to get the charges dismissed or reduced. Contact us at 630-448-2001 for a free consultation. Se Habla Español.




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