We’ve often heard that during a traffic stop, you should remain polite and courteous and follow the police officer’s instructions. But what if they want to search your car?
Knowing the circumstances that allow the police to search your car can help ensure your rights are protected.
Unreasonable searches and seizures
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that people have the right to be secure in their persons, papers and effects without worrying about unreasonable searches and seizures. This also includes vehicles, which means the police can’t search your car unless you permit them or they have a warrant.
Georgia’s laws closely align with the Fourth Amendment. It states that during an arrest, law enforcement is permitted to search the person and the area within the person’s immediate presence, which includes their vehicle. The purpose of the search is to protect the officer from attack, prevent the person from escaping or discovering evidence of the crime.
Without your consent, law enforcement can only search your vehicle if there is probable cause that the person has committed a crime, such as:
- Evidence of illegal activity is in plain view in the form of a weapon, illegal drugs or stolen property
- The smell of drugs or alcohol
- The person admits to committing a crime
- The person is acting suspiciously or attempting to hide something
This is due to the “automobile exception,” which allows a search without a warrant because cars are mobile and can quickly be moved out of the jurisdiction.
Therefore, if a police officer pulls you over, your interaction with them should be respectful and non-confrontational. But you are not required to consent to a search of your vehicle. If they do search without your permission, a warrant, or probable cause, they may be violating your constitutional rights.