It’s a situation with which many people are familiar. One minute they are driving down I-40, and the next, they see the red and blue flashing lights of the police in their rearview mirror and must pull over.
In the time it takes a police officer to approach a person’s vehicle, a lot of things can be running through a driver’s head, including whether the police will search the car. In these situations, it is vital to understand more about searches during traffic stops in Tennessee.
Three things police need to conduct a search
You are protected from unlawful searches. To legally search a vehicle in the course of a traffic stop, police must have one of the following:
- A search warrant
- Probable cause
- Your permission
Without one of these, police generally cannot search your car unless there is an emergency.
That said, it is not difficult for police to get what they need. This is especially true when people consent to a search. Often, a driver consents to a search, thinking they have no choice, or they have nothing to hide.
However, allowing police to search your car can have devastating consequences. You may not realize a friend you drove last week dropped a baggie with drug residue on it in the back seat. Or the police may find prescription medication or other suspicious substances that give them reason to arrest you.
Similarly, probable cause can be reasonably easy to establish. To search your car without your permission or a warrant, an officer must have reason to believe that you are committing a crime or have committed a crime in your vehicle.
Probable cause can take many forms from a driver who appears to be under the influence to contraband in plain sight. Because of the subjective nature of probable cause, police may take liberties or fabricate reasons to conduct a search that later proves to be unlawful.
Protecting against unlawful searches
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself and your rights is to not consent to a warrantless search. Doing so forces the officers to establish probable cause or get a warrant.
If police conduct an illegal search of your vehicle, any evidence obtained as a result of the search can be challenged and possibly dismissed, which could have a tremendous impact on your case.