Can the Police Search Your Vehicle at a Traffic Stop?

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Let’s say you are driving home from a party one night when suddenly you see the infamous red or blue lights flashing behind you. A quick glance at your speedometer reveals you are going ten mph over the speed limit. During the traffic stop, the officer asks if he may search your trunk. Are you allowed to say no? What are your rights? What happens if he calls for the canine detection unit?

Whatever happens next, a Fargo criminal defense attorney could help you navigate these uncertain legal waters. You have several rights in this situation, and if they are violated, it could change the outcome of any criminal charges you are facing as a result of your traffic stop. 

Consenting to a Traffic Stop Search in Fargo

You do not have to consent to a search of your personage or vehicle during a traffic stop, whether you have evidence that could implicate you in a crime or not. If you do consent, and the officer finds something that could be used as evidence in a case against you, it will likely be used. You will not be able to object to its use since it was found with your permission. 

Probable Cause for a Traffic Stop Search

A warrantless search is unreasonable unless it falls within an exception to the warrant requirement.  Under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, law enforcement may search for illegal contraband without a warrant when probable cause exists. When a law enforcement officer stops you, they look at the totality of circumstances to determine if they have probable cause to search your vehicle. This may include:

  • Your behavior when interacting with police
  • Your verbalizing inconsistent trip plans or other statements
  • Items in your vehicle that could lead the officer to believe you are involved in drugs or other illegal activity

It is important to note that a single point of suspicion alone is not generally enough for an officer to have your vehicle searched. They must have probable cause that you are engaging in illegal activity and develop observations that lead them to that conclusion. This must all be done while performing the regular duties of a traffic stop, whether it be for a non-working headlight, speeding, or something else. 

Your Fourth Amendment Rights During a Traffic Stops 

A law enforcement officer cannot search your vehicle without a search warrant issued by a judge or without probable cause during the normal duties of the traffic stop. Sometimes, however, officers search vehicles anyhow, assuming that their actions won’t be challenged. If, during an unlawful search illegal items are found, a judge could suppress any evidence found, and it would not be admissible in court. 

Call Us Today to Schedule a Consultation with a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Fargo

If your vehicle or person was searched during a routine traffic stop, you likely feel violated and have many questions. We understand these feelings and are here to answer your pressing questions and represent your legal interests. Contact our experienced criminal defense attorney Tatum O’Brien by email, or call O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss at 701-235-8000 or toll-free at 877-235-8002.

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