Michael A. Gottlieb, P.A. - Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer

How to handle it when police ask to search your car

An ordinary traffic stop can be the start of big trouble. All it takes is one simple question from the officer such as, "Is there anything in this vehicle that might get you into trouble?"

Frankly, the officer hopes that you'll either be so nervous that you'll admit that you have something illegal on you or that you'll tell the officer to look around, hoping that the officer won't actually take you up on it.

Don't fall for it. Police officers are trained to intimidate. They know that they have a powerful effect on people, and they will use that intimidation factor to their advantage. Here's what you need to remind yourself if you're stopped:

1. The Constitution protects you

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you against searches that are unreasonable. Unless an officer has probable cause to search your vehicle, he or she cannot initiate a search -- short of getting your permission. If you admit that you have marijuana or a gun in the car, however, you give the officer that probable cause. If you say, "Go ahead and look," you're consenting to a search. If you do end up arrested (and you probably will), you've just made your attorney's job much, much harder.

2. Refusing to consent could prevent a search

If you smile at the officer and say, "I'm sorry, officer, but did I commit a traffic violation?" without ever answering the question about your car, you can hopefully redirect the conversation. If the officer persists, you may have to be more direct and flatly refuse to discuss anything but the purpose of the traffic stop. If you don't give up any information and don't consent to a search, the officer will have to justify a search in court -- and that may be enough to stop one from happening.

3. If the search happens, you gain a fighting chance in court

As long as you didn't give the officer probable cause and didn't consent to the search, your defense attorney may be able to argue that your rights were violated. If your attorney is successful, the case could be dismissed for a lack of evidence.

Remember -- you do not have to justify your refusal to consent to a search of your vehicle. It's your right. If you're arrested on drug or weapon charges after an illegal search, seek legal counsel immediately.

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