When Can a Police Officer Search My Vehicle?

Jan 20, 17

When Can a Police Officer Search My Vehicle?

Can a police officer search through your car, simply because they pulled you over?

No, they can’t. And although the Fourth Amendment does protect you from unlawful search and seizure, it does not require police officers to tell you about this right.

Probable Cause

In order for a police officer to search your vehicle in California, they will either need probable cause, your consent, or a warrant. Probable cause requires actual fact or evidence that suggests there is something illegal in the vehicle. If a police officer sees or smells something suspicious or if you admit to committing a crime, this is considered probable cause.

However, being pulled over for minor infractions (expired registration, running a red light, neglecting to use your turn signal, etc.) does not count as probable cause. Those are unrelated offenses.

Giving Consent To Search

They may also search your vehicle if you give them permission - also known as consent. If the police officer does not have probable cause, he or she may ask your permission to search your vehicle. At this point, you do not have to give consent. You can simply express (in a calm, respectful tone), “Officer, I do not consent to a search.”

Keep in mind, the officer might ask the question, “You don’t mind if I look in your car?” This sounds like a command, but it’s actually a request and you have the right to say “no.” The officer may attempt to coerce you by asking, “Well, what do you have to hide?” You can simply repeat your refusal of the consent. “Officer, I know you’re just doing your job, but I do not consent to searches.”

Do Your Best To Keep Calm & Be Respectful

Stay civil and respectful. Also remember that what you say can hurt you. Do your best to avoid admitting to any infractions when receiving a ticket. Stay calm, listen to their instructions about paying the fine, but refrain from over-sharing. It may do more harm than good.

If you’ve received a ticket and would like help fighting it, you don’t have to do it alone. Ticket Snipers is here to help California citizens beat their traffic tickets. Fill out this quick form or give us a call at 800-985-8978.