At Lotze Mosley LLP, our criminal defense attorneys in Washington D.C. and Maryland field many questions from clients about when police officers can legally search their vehicles, and whether they have to consent to a search when asked.
First things first, if you are pulled over by a police officer and he or she asks a series of questions that eventually lead to, “May we search your vehicle?” You do not have to consent to a search. You can, and definitely should, say no.
Consenting to a search of your vehicle gives the police an open agreement that may effectively waive your right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure.
Even if you have nothing to hide, the definitive answer should always be no. No, you may not search my vehicle.
When Can the Police Search My Vehicle if I Do Not Give Them Permission?
However, there are several exceptions that do not require a warrant to search a vehicle.
The first is called probable cause.
If the police believe — and have specific, articulable facts — your vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime, they may search your vehicle without a warrant.
Something as simple as the odor of marijuana or illegal activity or contraband occurring or appearing in plain sight will provide probable cause to search your vehicle without a warrant.
The second exception is called reasonable suspicion — which is more than a hunch, but less than probable cause — of illegal circumstances occurring in the vehicle.
When an officer pulls you over, they may frisk you and the areas within your reach, if he or she has reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred.
The third exception is if you have been placed under arrest for a crime, including traffic infractions or a DUI, the officer may search you and your surroundings before placing you in his or her vehicle.
The police are permitted to conduct an inventory search of the vehicle when it is towed or seized as part of that arrest.
Finally, the police may search your vehicle if you provide them consent.
What if the Search of My Vehicle Violated My Rights?
If you were arrested for any reason in Washington D.C. or Maryland, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in Washington D.C. to ensure you understand your rights.
If you were pulled over and the officer conducted a warrantless search of your vehicle, we will pursue the best legal path to getting that evidence suppressed, so it cannot be used against you in court. Often, when evidence is no longer permitted as part of the prosecution’s case, charges must be lessened or dropped altogether.
If you have been charged with a crime, and believe the evidence against you was improperly obtained, contact our experienced criminal defense attorneys in Washington D.C. and Maryland at Lotze Mosley LLP to determine the best course of action for your unique case by calling (202) 393-0535 today.