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Can a police officer ask to search your vehicle?

On Behalf of | Dec 7, 2021 | DUI Defense

If you are stopped for a traffic violation, the police officer may approach you to speak with you and give you a warning or citation. During the stop, they’ll look into your vehicle to see if there are any open containers or drugs that are out in the open.

An officer can ask you if you’ve been drinking or if you have drugs in your vehicle during the stop. You should be aware, though, that you do not have to answer. You have the right to stay quiet when your answer could incriminate you. This is the entire point of the protections offered by the Fifth Amendment.

When an officer asks you questions, be careful of your responses

If an officer asks you about your day or if you’ve been using drugs or alcohol, you don’t have to stay anything. If the police ask if they can search your vehicle, you don’t need to oblige, even if you have nothing to hide.

The reality is that giving the police permission to go through your vehicle is always going to be a bad idea. The police cannot normally search your vehicle without probable cause or a warrant. They are allowed to access items that are in plain view, like a can sitting on your passenger seat, but without permission, they cannot go through your vehicle unless they have a warrant or significant, reasonable need to do so.

If you decide that you want to prove that you have nothing to hide and give them permission to get into your vehicle or search the trunk, you’re putting yourself in a precarious position. Even though you might not have drugs or alcohol in your vehicle, passengers might have dropped something illegal in your car, or you might be accused of being in possession because something else you have in the vehicle appears to be paraphernalia or an illicit substance.

It’s better to know your rights. If an officer begins to ask questions and wants to know if you have drugs or alcohol in your vehicle, you don’t have to give them an answer. Cooperate when they ask for your license, registration, proof of insurance and other legally required documents, and then ask if you are free to go. There is no obligation to sit and chat with an officer once the traffic stop is completed.