Typically, a cop can search a person’s vehicle if they have reasonable suspicion that a crime is taking place. In other words, if a cop has probable cause, they can search your car even if they initially stopped you for a broken taillight, outdated tags, or another minor issue.
Here is an example of how this might play out: a cop stops your car to inform you of a broken taillight. During this process, they see what they believe is an open container of alcohol or evidence of drugs. As a result, they now have probable cause for illegal activity and can search your vehicle.
Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause
There must be observable evidence of what is likely illegal activity while the car is in motion for a police officer to have reasonable suspicion before pulling the vehicle over. For example, if a driver is weaving across lanes and intermittently speeding up and slowing down, a police officer would have reasonable suspicion that the driver is either drunk or otherwise intoxicated.
The probable cause comes into effect after being stopped, either based on reasonable suspicion or a minor traffic violation. Probable cause is based on visible activity or objects in the car, such as a weapon on the dashboard or containers of alcohol on the floorboards. An officer may also search your vehicle if you admit to a crime when talking with the officer.
What Constitutes An Illegal Vehicle Search
It is illegal for police officers to stop and search your vehicle if they do not have a legitimate reason tied to reasonable suspicion or probable cause. For example, a cop cannot search your car because you ‘look like a criminal.’ Though they may pull you over for minor traffic or motion violations, this does not give them the authority to search your car.
It is also illegal for a police officer to pull you over based on a hunch rather than observable characteristics. Similarly, it is unlawful for a police officer to pull you over based on a minor traffic violation and then search your car without any probable cause.
If you suspect you have been the victim of an illegal vehicle search, contact a criminal defense lawyer to discuss the circumstances of the search and what your options may be.
Know Your Rights And Contact A Lawyer
The best way to handle police encounters is to know your rights and educate yourself on how to handle being pulled over for any reason. There are several tricks that police officers commonly use to try and fluster drivers or find probable cause for a search after stopping the vehicle.
To protect yourself, learn about your right and follow these guidelines:
- Remain calm and only directly respond to the officer’s inquiries that are related to their reason for pulling you over; do not volunteer additional details or become emotional
- Do not grant an officer’s request to search your vehicle; if an officer has to request to search your car, it means they do not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause
- Remember that an officer’s authority to search your vehicle is limited; neither giving you a ticket for a traffic violation nor frisking/searching you gives them the power to search your vehicle
When in doubt, contact a lawyer or other representative. If you want to be especially careful, you can call your lawyer as soon as a cop pulls you over.
There are some exciting changes underway this week, from new businesses to new infrastructure improvements. While Astro Beer Hall (4001 Campbell Avenue) is outside of Alexandria in the Shirlington neighborhood,…
At a town hall meeting last Sunday, most City Council members said — in no uncertain terms — that they are opposed to a ward system in Alexandra. Currently, all…
Alexandria is bracing for a federal government shutdown at midnight on Sunday (Oct. 1). The city is preparing a package of services for impacted city residents, should Congress not come…
Shuttles are running between the Potomac Yard Metro station and National Airport Metro station after a derailment this morning. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) said there were no injuries…
If you had a chance to enhance a child’s future with a time commitment of less than 2 hours a week, how would you respond? You have that opportunity right now to join over 200 Alexandrians as a reading tutor volunteer with the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium (ATC).
ATC tutors work with one child in kindergarten, first, or second grade in Alexandria public schools who need extra help with reading. Tutors meet with their Book Buddy 1-2 times each week for 30 minutes October-May at school, during school hours. Many struggling readers only receive one-on-one instruction through this program, and it makes all the difference. Last year, ATC served 195 children, of whom 82% ended the year reading on grade level and 96% made substantial reading gains. But the need is great, and we are still seeing learning lags from the pandemic.
This year, ATC plans to significantly increase the size of the program to reach over 250 students and to serve every elementary school in Alexandria. This is very exciting news, but we will only succeed if we can recruit more tutors. ATC trains you, matches you with a child, and provides ongoing lesson materials and support.
If you have been thinking about buying your first home or haven’t owned one in the last three years, THIS IS FOR YOU!
In the DMV area, it can be difficult to save the downpayment necessary for you to get into your own home. We have a solution. The Funder’s Summit!
We have assembled a summit with different municipalities to tell you how to access their funds for your home purchase.
Mark your calendars and join us for the Family Fun Fall Fest on Saturday, October 7, 2023, from 11am – 2pm!
This FREE in-person event will be held at the Shoppes at Foxchase, located at 4641 Duke St, Alexandria, VA