Drivers can be pulled over any time they are in their car and fail to comply with traffic laws, which is something many people do fairly frequently. Think about it: how often do you speed? How many times have you rolled through a stop sign or changed lanes without using your turn signal?
In any of these cases, you can be pulled over by a police officer. You might just be issued a warning or given a ticket, or a traffic stop can turn from inconvenient to devastating if a search of you or your vehicle is conducted. Considering the fact that many drug charges arise from traffic stops, it can be wise to understand when and why police may conduct a search after pulling your over.
Broadly speaking, police can only search your vehicle if they have a warrant or there is probable cause to do so. Probable cause is anything that gives an officer reason to suspect a crime has been committed or is being committed in your car. Factors that could be considered probable cause include your actions or behaviors, items that are in plain sight or certain smells.
Without probable cause, police can only search your vehicle if they have a warrant or if you give them permission. Many drug-related offenses involve people who give permission to an officer thinking they have nothing to hide or not realizing they have the right to say no and ultimately are arrested.
It is crucial to remember that these situations are not always black-and-white, and there are exceptions that exist, which makes it very difficult to know if your rights have been violated. Police officers know the rules, how to bend them and when they are breaking them, but average drivers don't always have this familiarity and aren't sure of their rights during a traffic stop.
Because of this disadvantage, it can be crucial that you discuss with an attorney the situation and other elements of a drug possession or distribution charge that arises from a traffic stop.