You may often hear stories of people who get stopped for a traffic violation and then end up facing arrest and get charged with a crime following a search of their vehicle. There are situations where a police officer is authorized to search your vehicle. However, you do have rights regarding when an officer is legally able to do so. We understand that knowing your rights during these situations may help you prevent an illegal vehicle search.

According to the Police Practices and Civil Rights in New York City, an officer must have a reasonable suspicion of some sort of wrongdoing to stop your car in the first place. Additionally, they must be able to point to the “specific and articulable facts” for the intrusion. An officer is always allowed to look through the windows of your vehicle for their safety and to spot potential evidence. However, they are only allowed to search your vehicle under the following five circumstances.

  • You consent to the search
  • The officer has a warrant to search the vehicle
  • The officer believes someone may destroy the evidence of a crime if they do not act quickly
  • The officer has reason to believe that you have committed a crime of some sort (they can smell drugs from your car, for example)
  • The officer can see evidence of the crime by looking through your windows (in plain sight)

If you are stopped for a traffic violation and you believe that the officer’s request to search your car does not fall into one of the above situations, you can refuse the search. More information about this topic is available on our web page about criminal defense.