Being stopped by a police officer for a possible traffic violation can be a common experience. However, being asked to step out of the vehicle, or for the officer to ask to search the car are two questions that few people encounter. Because of this, there may be some confusion over what a person may do (or say) to protect their rights.
As such, this post will briefly highlight a person’s basic rights under the Fourth Amendment as they apply to automobile search. For those unfamiliar with the Fourth Amendment, it provides the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. This means that the police must obtain a warrant to conduct searches of places where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g. their home, their clothing, luggage, etc.).
When it comes to a car, the police may conduct what is generally termed a “plain view” search without a warrant. This means that they can look through a car’s windows to find and confiscate illegal items in plain sight (e.g. on a dashboard, seat or console). They may not search your vehicle without your express permission. However, if a person is arrested, the police will search the entire vehicle.
With that said, a driver is not legally compelled to allow law enforcement to search the vehicle unless certain requirements are satisfied. Unfortunately, many people allow such searches out of the assumption that they may talk themselves out of trying situations; only to find themselves under arrest after the police find contraband.
The preceding is not intended to be legal advice. If you have further questions, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Source: Criminal.findlaw.com “Search and Seizure and the Fourth Amendment”