Hundreds of people get pulled over by the police on any given day in Georgia. Most of them receive only a warning or a traffic citation, but some people end up arrested because of serious criminal allegations.
The police officer pulling you over should have probable cause to believe that you committed a traffic infraction or other crime. Sometimes, however, they may initiate a traffic stop with a very questionable explanation and then start hunting for a reason to arrest the driver.
Some police officers will ask to search a vehicle during a roadside encounter. Are you allowed to decline, or will doing so result in your arrest?
Police need a warrant, permission or probable cause to search
For an officer to justify searching your vehicle, they typically need a clear suspicion of specific criminal activity, which people refer to as probable cause. Seeing a weapon unsecured in the backseat or smelling drugs in a vehicle would be an example of probable cause that might give an officer the justification they require to search your vehicle. Officers can also get warrants when they believe a vehicle may contain evidence related to a specific criminal offense.
Many roadside vehicle searches depend on a driver giving permission. The officer does not yet have a warrant and does not currently have probable cause to conduct a search. They ask for permission in the hopes of finding something that will implicate the driver and give them grounds for an arrest.
You can refuse the search, and they will eventually have to let you move on with your day unless they already have reason to arrest you.
What if they search your vehicle without justification?
Some drivers might find themselves dealing with the police officer who seemingly doesn’t care about their rights. If an officer searches your vehicle after you tell them no and when they do not have clear probable cause, you may be in a position to use that as part of your criminal defense strategy.
Lawyers can potentially help you suppress evidence secured during an illegal search through the exclusionary rule. Even if the search was legal because you gave your permission and then officers found something you didn’t expect, there may still be multiple options for defending yourself against your pending charges.
Knowing your rights is a crucial first step toward avoiding unfair and inappropriate criminal allegations, such as drug charges based solely on a search of your vehicle.