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When do authorities have legal grounds to search your car?

On Behalf of | Aug 31, 2022 | Criminal Defense

During a Texas traffic stop, the law enforcement officer who pulls you over may try to encourage you to allow him or her to look through your car. While in some cases, the officer may have valid grounds to search your car, in other instances, you may have the right to refuse such a request. Understanding the rights you have in this situation – and when they apply – may go a long way in terms of helping you navigate it.

According to FlexYourRights.org, whether an officer may search your car during a traffic stop without your permission depends on if he or she has one of two things: either a warrant or something that qualifies as probable cause.

What might count as probable cause

A law enforcement officer may not conduct a search of your vehicle that you do not want to take place simply because he or she suspects there might be evidence of something illegal inside. The officer has to have more than that. Smelling an illegal odor may give him or her the legal right to conduct a search without your consent. Spotting something illegal, such as stolen contraband, may also constitute an example of probable cause for a vehicle search.

What happens when there is no probable cause

If the officer who asks to search your car does not have anything that constitutes probable cause, you may politely refuse the request to search your vehicle and ask if you are free to leave.

Keep in mind that minor violations, such as busted taillight or expired vehicle registration, do not fall under the probable cause umbrella and are therefore not valid grounds for an officer to search your car.