Have you ever had a police officer ask to search your car during a traffic stop? Were you unsure about how to handle the request? Understanding the law — and your rights — can help you handle this stressful situation a little more smoothly.
First Things First
When you see those flashing lights in your rearview mirror, the first thing you should do is quickly find a safe place to pull over. Turn off your car and place both hands on the wheel where the officer can see them. Be polite and comply if the officer asks to see your license and registration.
How to Handle a Search Request
If an officer asks you to exit the car, do so calmly. If an officer requests to search your car, you have the right to refuse to consent to this action. Make sure you state your refusal clearly and succinctly but do not physically resist in any way.
The officer can frisk the outside of your clothing if they suspect you may be carrying a weapon. They can also search your car under a few different circumstances: if they have probable cause, meaning when they see or smell something illegal in your vehicle; during an ongoing emergency; or if you consent to a search.
What to Do Next
Find out if you’re being detained or are under arrest. If you’ve refused to consent to a search but an officer is insisting that you remain on the scene, ask them if you are being detained or if you are free to go. If the officer says you are not free to go, then you are being detained.
In this case, inform the officer that you will not be answering any further questions and ask to see a lawyer immediately.