When the police pull you over, they may ask you if they can search your car. When this happens, what are your legal obligations? Are they asking simply to be polite, and will search your car regardless of your answer? Or do you actually have the right to say no? It’s important to know what your legal rights are before this situation arises, so that you can know how to respond in the moment.
Your constitutional rights
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants you specific rights when it comes to interactions with the police. It establishes protections from citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
The Supreme Court of the United States has clarified in several cases what the term “unreasonable searches and seizures” means when it comes to the police pulling someone over. The police do not have the right to pull someone over for no reason, and they also cannot search your car without your permission for no reason. If they ask you for permission to search your car, you do have the right to say no.
There are only two circumstances where the police may search your car without your permission. They can search it if they arrest you and take you into custody. They can also search it if they have a reasonable suspicion that such a search will reveal evidence of a crime.
For example, if you are swerving or driving erratically, or show other signs that makes the officer believe that you might be driving while under the influence of intoxicating substances, they could have a reasonable suspicion that there might be drugs in the car. That type of situation might justify an officer in conducting a search of your car.
If your car is searched improperly by a police officer, do not resist and do not be belligerent. Instead, contact an attorney as soon as possible in order to fight any charges brought against you and to defend your rights.