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When do authorities have the right to search your vehicle?

On Behalf of | Jul 26, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

A Missouri traffic stop may be a stressful experience, but keeping your cool and knowing what to do in this situation may help you avoid unnecessary trouble with the law. This is particularly true if the law enforcement official who pulls your car over wants to search it.

According to, an officer who stops your car and wants to look around it has to have one of three specific things to lawfully do so: a warrant, your consent or something that the courts would consider to be “probable cause.”

Understanding what constitutes probable cause

An officer’s hunch or suspicion that you did something illegal or have something illegal in your car is not enough to warrant a search of your vehicle if you do not want such a search to occur. Instead, the officer needs to have some sort of tangible evidence or proof of illegal activity to conduct a search you do not want to take place. Smelling an illegal substance coming from your car might count. Seeing contraband or stolen property in your car may also give the law enforcement officer valid grounds for a vehicle search.

Understanding what to do when there is no probable cause

If the officer who pulls you over lacks probable cause and a warrant and you do not want him or her searching your car, it is within your rights to refuse the search request. Tell the officer using clear, concise language that you do not give consent to the search. Then you may ask if it is acceptable to leave.

No matter how the traffic stop goes, exercise care and caution when interacting with law enforcement. Being courteous and polite during such interactions often works in your favor.