There are many misconceptions regarding police traffic stops that can result in people incriminating themselves. For example, you have no obligation to consent to a police search of your vehicle unless they have a warrant.
Knowing your rights can help you safeguard your privacy and avoid providing evidence against you to law enforcement.
Law enforcement and searches
In general, law enforcement officers cannot search someone’s private property without a warrant. However, if police have probable cause, it is permissible for them to look through someone’s vehicle during a traffic stop. For example, if officers witness drug use or smell an illicit substance like marijuana in the car, they can conduct a search of the vehicle. Also, police can look through a car they believe to contain weapons, stolen items or evidence of a crime.
Conduct during a traffic stop
Crucially, the law allows officers to engage in these searches with or without permission from the driver or owner of the vehicle. Therefore, it is essential that you not give consent to a search before it occurs. Being overly cooperative with law enforcement does not typically result in leniency. By contrast, allowing a search without a warrant to proceed makes it difficult for you to argue that the search was illegal later on. You should never behave rudely or combatively towards the police. However, not only is it your right to refuse to consent to a search, but it is also in your best interest to do so.
Police officers might search your car during a traffic stop. In some cases, refusing to consent to the search could make it illegal and thus unusable in court.