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Can the police search my car during a traffic stop?

Whether or not police can search a person’s car during a traffic stop really depends on the circumstances. There are certain situations when the police can search your vehicle, even if the reason for the traffic stop was relatively minor. For example, a stop for a broken tail light could lead to a search that uncovers drugs or weapons. Charges related to these more serious offenses could result in serious consequences, including prison time. Therefore, it is important you know when the police can legally search your car so that you can protect your legal rights.

The first way police can acquire access to your vehicle is if you consent to a search. Many Michigan residents do not realize that they have the power to refuse consent if a police officer asks to search their vehicle. Refusing consent is a great way to protect your privacy and your legal rights.

The second way an officer of the law can gain access to your vehicle during a traffic stop is if the officer has probable cause that a criminal offense is being or has been committed. For example, if a police officer pulls you over and smells marijuana, then the officer may have probable cause to search your vehicle for criminal activity. Police can also develop probable cause to search your vehicle if criminal evidence is in plain view. The probable cause doctrine is far-reaching, but it is not always clear cut.

The third way a legal search of your vehicle can be conducted is if an officer has a valid and legal search warrant. Lastly, your car could be subjected to a search if it is incident to your arrest. However, during warrant acquisition and evidence seizure, certain procedures must be followed. Failing to follow these procedures could lead to evidentiary issues that could be beneficial to you.

Since traffic stop searches are a massive and complex area of the law, it may be a good idea for you, if you are facing weapons or drug charges, to discuss your matter with an experienced criminal defense attorney to get specific legal advice — which this blog post cannot provide.

Source: FindLaw, “When Can the Police Search Your Car?” accessed on Jan. 10, 2015

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