A casual perusal of television reality shows like "Cops" and the newly-popular "Live PD" make it appear that law enforcement personnel are free to search you and your vehicle at will. You should understand, however, that that is simply not the case. There are certain conditions under which you can be searched, and if those conditions are not met anything found would be useless in your prosecution. To get more information about this confusing issue, read on and learn about what grounds must exist to carry out a warrantless search.
Can you refuse to allow the search?
Law enforcement won't just perform a search without good reason, but they may ask your permission to perform a search whether they have a good reason or not. If they have the grounds, (more about this below) they will just go ahead and do the search with or without your permission. You have the right to refuse a search of your self and of your vehicle, however. You should also consider that law enforcement tends to patrol more in problem areas, so what you are seeing on television is not representative of most traffic stops. In other words, those cars are searched more often because law enforcement sees more crime in those areas and at certain hours of the day.
Understanding grounds to search
Suspicions of criminal activity are enough to give law enforcement grounds to search you and your vehicle, and most officers are well-versed in suspicious behavior and the signs of issues. They go by what they observe, from the moment they pull behind a subject, to when they approach the vehicle. If they spot anything at all that seems out of place, they have probable cause or the grounds to search. That might be:
1. Weaving between the lanes
2. Throwing something out of the window
3. Drugs or alcohol in plain view in the vehicle
4. The odor of drugs or alcohol
5. Other things
Actions to take if you get stopped
While knowing your rights concerning searches is good, you should always be respectful and follow any requests to the best of your ability by law enforcement. Keep these tips in mind:
1. You cannot be arrested for refusing to allow a search, but the police can detain you for any length of time while they assemble a search dog or a specialty officer (field sobriety officer, a female officer, a language translator, etc). Eventually, they will either find grounds to proceed with the search or release you to leave.
2. You can refuse to speak to an officer, whether or not you have been read your Miranda Rights. You do, however, have to provide the officer with your correct name (and sometimes date of birth).
Speak with a defense attorney or law firm like Law Office Of Lori Crystal, LLC if you have been arrested for any reason.