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Appropriate actions when police want to search your car

You may never willingly relinquish your rights, especially when your freedom may be on the line. However, the quickest way to unknowingly waive your rights is to fail to understand the rights you have.

One of the most basic rights citizens of Texas and across the country enjoy is the right to protection from unreasonable or unwarranted searches by police. Law enforcement may take advantage of the fact that many do not know enough about this right to invoke it at a critical moment.

Protecting your rights

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that, with very few exceptions, police must have probable cause to obtain a warrant allowing them to search your home, vehicle or body. Probable cause means there is some evidence that you have committed a crime or are somehow involved in something illegal. Unless you give them permission, police cannot search your vehicle just because they think they might find something incriminating.

If a police officer pulls you over, you must comply with an order to get out of your vehicle. An officer may try to gain permission to search your vehicle by making the request sound like a command. He or she may try coercion by suggesting that your refusal makes you look guilty or that your refusal may work against you in court. You can respond with these actions:

  • Always remain polite, use a respectful tone and comply with legal requests, such as showing your ID.
  • State simply that you do not consent to the search.
  • Never resist or use any physical means of protesting the search, including touching the officer.
  • Ask the officer if you are under arrest or if you are free to leave.
  • If the officer searches your vehicle despite your refusal, remain calm and let your attorney file a motion to suppress any evidence resulting from the illegal search.

Police usually will not admit whether they have probable cause to search your vehicle, and they will certainly not tell you that you have the right to refuse consent for the search. However, they may claim to have probable cause if you happen to say something that sounds incriminating.

Because of this, it is always best to remain as silent and calm as possible. You may find your situation escalating quickly if you complain that police are violating your rights. Instead, it is wise to be patient and refuse to answer any questions until you speak to an attorney.

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John M. Petruzzi, Attorney at Law
4900 Woodway Drive, Suite 745
Houston, Texas 77056

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