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Can a Cop Search My Vehicle If I Was Stopped for Another Reason?

You’re driving along following the rules of the road when a police officer pulls up behind you and flashes their lights. You immediately pull over and await their reasoning for stopping you. The police officer notifies you that one of your taillights is broken and issues you a citation to get it fixed. Then, they ask you to get out of your vehicle so they can search it. Are they justified here? Do they have a right to search your vehicle?

Generally speaking, a traffic violation or broken taillight is not reason enough to search someone’s vehicle. However, if the police officer has reasonable suspicion of another crime, then they may be justified in searching your vehicle.

Causes for Reasonable Suspicion

In order to search your vehicle, the police officer must have reasonable suspicion. A few examples of reasonable suspicion may include:

  • Observation of the driver or passenger drinking alcohol while driving
  • Observation of the driver or passenger using drugs
  • Firearms or drugs in clear sight during the routine stop
  • Smelling alcohol or drugs in the vehicle during the routine stop

These are just a few reasons that may qualify as reasonable suspicion. However, there must be physical evidence that leads to probable cause, as the police officer cannot simply act on an assumption of wrongdoing.

What is Not Considered Probable Cause

If the true reason that the police officer pulls you over is for a broken taillight, and they don’t witness anything that could be illegal, then they are not permitted to search your vehicle. Too often, however, the police may encourage or persist that they search your vehicle. Even if they find something illegal during the search, it may be thrown out if they didn’t have a reason to search it in the first place.

What to Do If You’re Pulled Over

If you’re pulled over, regardless of the reason, it’s important to limit the chances of adding on criminal charges. Keep your hands on the wheel and only reach for items when asked to do so. Remain silent and offer only details that the police officer requests. There’s no reason to offer additional information that’s not related to the broken taillight.

If you do find yourself in a situation in which the police officer wrongly asks you or a passenger to leave the car so they can search it, it’s best to comply and then contact a criminal defense lawyer. If there is no reasonable cause for the police officer to do so, then they cannot legally search your vehicle when pulled over for a broken taillight.

What If a Police Officer Asks to Search Your Vehicle?

A police officer must have a search warrant to search your vehicle without probable cause. This, however, may not stop them from asking to search your vehicle. You have a right to say no. Saying no does not admit guilt. If you decline, and the officer searches your vehicle anyways without probable cause, it’s likely the court will dismiss the case.

Contact an Experienced Hamilton Township Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Criminal Charges in New Jersey

Were you arrested or charged with criminal charges in New Jersey? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at the Davis Law Firm have successfully represented clients charged with criminal charges in Hamilton, Trenton, Ewing, Lawrence, and throughout New Jersey. Call (609) 498-7722 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 2653 Nottingham Way, Hamilton Township, NJ 08619.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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