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Do I Have To Let the Police Search My Car?

Whether or not you have any illegal goods in your care, you may be offended and concerned over letting police search your car. But you have the right to deny their request to search your vehicle, unless the law enforcement official has a search warrant issued for probable cause that a crime has been committed. The police can also search if they have your stated permission.

drug detection police dog searching car for drugs

Some Background Information

Tennessee search and seizure laws work to protect citizens rights by requiring police to engage in due diligence before searching a person’s property or vehicle. But the police officer who pulled you over has certain suspicions and knows if you give permission, they can proceed with the search.

This law is designed for two reasons: first, it prevents the general public from living in constant fear of being pulled over and forced to allow a law enforcement official, from conducting a search without your approval or without any proof or cause that evidence from a crime can be found in your vehicle. They can not search hoping to find something that they can charge you with such as drug possession.

Secondly, it protects law enforcement officials by requiring them to meet a minimum set of due diligence requirements before engaging in a search. Their career can be ended by overstepping the law and their department and city can be sued for the handling of the stop. The key is not to violate constitutional rights of citizens.

Three Possible Requirements

Emergency situations may arise where the officer has to search your vehicle, but generally, they have to meet one of these three requirements to legally search your vehicle. Law enforcement officials need to have at least one requirement to justify searching your vehicle, but multiple situations can apply.

Search Warrant

Search warrants in the state of Tennessee cannot be issued for just any reason. For vehicle searches, the person seeking the warrant has to believe the vehicle was stolen/embezzled, was used to commit a felony, or can show good cause that the vehicle will be used in service of committing a felony.

If none of those situations apply, the officer can still request a vehicle search based on:

Probable Cause

This requirement actually offers a lot of wiggle room in terms of interpretation and judgment by the officer in terms of application. Probable cause can include things like perceived erratic driving or suspicious activity by the driver, but the exact requirements of those situations can change depending on the the officer’s experience and judgment.

For example, if a officer pulls a driver over for speeding, but notices a passenger with injuries or drug paraphernalia in full view, they may have probable cause to search the car for evidence of a crime such as domestic abuse, sex trafficking, or drug crimes. Likewise, probable cause may be as simple as if the law enforcement officer saw you walk to your parked vehicle “in a suspicious manner.”

The Third is Asking Permission

If the police officer ask for permission to search the car and you give it, then they may legally search your car. However if they ask and you say no, they do not have your permission. Saying no does not make you guilty of a crime. It is important to be respectful with police but not at the expense of your rights as established in the fourth amendment of the constitution. Ideally the officer will respect your answer. But they may not which can be frustrating and frightening.

They may, unfortunately for you and them, proceed without your permission, and then you will have legal grounds to bring charges or sue for illegal search. They will need to meet one of the other 2 requirements if they hope to have legitimate legal grounds for their search. If their search was not legal, you would also have a defense against any charges that may stem from the search.

Contact a Top Murfreesboro Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you have been arrested and part of the reason, may be based on an illegal search of your car or vehicle you may have a very good defense. Contact criminal defense attorney David Clarke of Murfreesboro to learn about how we can defend you. Contact the Clarke Law Firm today.