When a Texas law enforcement officer stops your car, you may feel your heart start to race, even if you are not doing anything wrong. A traffic stop is often an anxiety-inducing encounter, but knowing what rights you have during a traffic stop when it comes to vehicle searches may help you stay calm when this situation arises.
According to FlexYourRights.org, authorities typically need to possess a warrant if they show up at your home and want to look around. However, the bar is lower if they want to look around your car during a traffic stop.
Understanding what constitutes “probable cause”
Rather than a warrant, a law enforcement officer needs to only have probable cause to look around your car without your consent. However, probable cause refers to more than just a feeling something is illegal or amiss. The officer who stops you has to have something that serves as evidence or proof of illegal activity to search your vehicle further without your permission.
Understanding what to do in the absence of probable cause
Unless the officer who stops you has something that counts as probable cause, you do not have to consent to a search of your car. If you decide to exercise your right to refuse the law enforcement officer’s request, let him or her know as much. Make an effort to be polite, but clear when doing so, so as not to escalate the situation in any manner. After doing so, you may ask if you are free to move on.
If a search of your vehicle takes place without an officer having a warrant, your permission or probable cause, the results of that search may not carry relevance in court.