This week, our criminal lawyers discuss a Marylanders concern about law enforcement searching a car during a traffic stop without a warrant.
The Question:Why do so many lawyers/people recommend that a driver should never grant a cop permission to search their car without a warrant?
Why do so many advise that a cop should not be allowed to search your car without a warrant? Why not let the cop search the vehicle? I don't have anything to hide.
The Answer:It is because you have a legal right to be free of illegal searches. Give an inch, and they'll take a mile.
The Constitution prevents unreasonable searches and seizures with the 4th Amendment (Part of Our 10 Bill of Rights). It is the number one reason we advise against allowing police to search your vehicle without a warrant.
The police officer's reason for pulling you over is a traffic violation, not because you have something illegal in your car. Any search of your car because you got caught speeding or ran a stop sign is unreasonable.
Now, the 4th Amendment does not protect us from every search, just those deemed unreasonable. So, for an officer to find a reason to search the vehicle is necessary for the search to be legal.
For example, a person who has been drinking and driving gets pulled over for swerving in their lane. Upon arriving at the window, the officer spots an open container of alcohol in the cup holder in plain view, which would allow him to legally search the car since evidence of a crime (drinking and driving) is in plain sight.
Police cannot arrest you over suspicion of something. There must be evidence. Evidence gathered illegally gets thrown out, while legally obtained with a search warrant, evidence is included in a trial.
You have the right as a citizen of the United States to make sure thing law enforcement has a warrant to search your car or property. Ask them if they have a warrant. If there isn't one, you politely tell them that they do not have permission to search.
When you permit a search without a warrant, you waive the right of the 4th Amendment. You, in a sense, gave them an inch, and they took the proverbial mile.
Asking for them to provide a search warrant protects you from a simple misunderstanding that could lead to an enormous headache.
It's best to keep the officer focused on why they pulled you over, a traffic violation. That is the only infraction they can charge you with, as long as you don't permit them to search the vehicle without a warrant.
Our automatic disclaimer: We're lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We're providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual's attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a "real" response!