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Can police search my car for drugs during a traffic stop?

Seeing the red and blue flashing lights of a police car in your rear view mirror can be enough to make any driver nervous. If you happen to have any drugs or drug paraphernalia in your car, then you can be especially uneasy about how the traffic stop will end.

In these situations, typically all that stands between a driver and an arrest is a search of the driver's vehicle. Because of how much damage can be done in the span of a vehicle search, it is important for Tennessee drivers to understand a few facts about traffic stops and police searches.

You do not have to consent to a search

One of the easiest ways police get access to a person's vehicle is with the permission of the driver. Police have numerous tactics to get a person to give consent to search a vehicle, but understand that you do not have to consent to the search. Even if you think you have nothing to hide, remember that you do not have to consent to a warrantless search.

Probable cause casts a wide net

As noted in this FindLaw.com article, police can search your vehicle without a warrant if they have reason to believe there is evidence of a crime. This is probable cause, and it includes anything from the smell of marijuana to a driver matching the description of a dangerous felon in the area. 

Plain view does not require a warrant

Another way police can lawfully conduct a warrantless search during a traffic stop is if there is evidence of a crime in plain view. For instance, an officer might claim he or she saw white residue, needles or a glass pipe when looking into a vehicle to talk to the driver, allowing them to conduct a search without a warrant.

Police know the circumstances under which they are lawfully allowed to search a vehicle without a warrant, as well as how to take advantage of this knowledge with a driver who does not know his or her rights. As such, it can be crucial to discuss with an attorney the details of a traffic stop and search if you are facing criminal charges.

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