A Pennsylvania traffic stop may have you feeling uneasy or anxious, and you may feel even more so if the law enforcement officer who pulls you over wants to take a look through your car. Knowing when you do and do not have the right to refuse an officer’s search request may make you more comfortable next time you find yourself in this situation.
According to FlexYourRights.org, unless the law enforcement officer has a warrant in his or her possession allowing a vehicle search to proceed, you have the right to say no to a search request unless the officer has something called “probable cause.”
When the officer has probable cause
“Probable cause” means authorities have some sort of evidence or proof that you have something illegal, or are doing something illegal, in your car at the time of your traffic stop. If the officer views something illegal within plain sight, this typically counts as probable cause and gives the officer the right to search your car even if you prefer that he or she does not do so. Smelling an illegal substance emanating from a car may also give a law enforcement officer grounds for a search.
When there is an absence of probable cause
Without probable cause or a warrant, you do not have to authorize a search of your vehicle during a traffic stop. If you decide to exercise your right to refuse an officer’s search request, state as much in clear, concise language.
If you refuse the request to look around your car in the absence of a warrant or probable cause, do so politely to avoid potentially creating additional trouble for yourself.