George F. Hildebrandt
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How to keep police officers from searching your car

Whether you are 16 or 66, interacting with law enforcement officials can be extraordinarily intimidating. If officers think you have committed a crime, a stop can be downright scary. Still, how you behave when officers pull you over may influence the criminal consequences you face. 

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. In most cases, officers must obtain a warrant before they search your property, take your belongings or arrest you. There are exceptions to this rule, however. Importantly, when driving a vehicle, officers only need probable cause to search your car. Here are four ways to keep police officers from searching your vehicle: 

1. Drive carefully 

Officers need a reason to stop your vehicle. Therefore, you should always drive carefully and obey traffic laws. You should also keep your vehicle in good working condition. With a bit of effort, you can likely decrease your chances of avoiding the police altogether. 

2. Cooperate with basic requests 

Whether at a DWI checkpoint or on the open road, you may not be able to avoid law enforcement. When an officer approaches your vehicle, be courteous. Also, cooperate with basic requests for your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. Remember, arguing with officers is a good way to encourage them to look for a reason to search your car. 

3. Listen to the officer’s words 

Officers must have probable cause to search your vehicle. They can overcome this hurdle, however, by obtaining your consent. Because officers receive training on ways to elicit consent, you must carefully listen to the officer’s words. For example, an officer may say, “you do not care if I look inside your car, do you?” 

4. Refuse consent 

You can refuse consent in a couple of ways. First, you can simply say, “I refuse to consent to a search of my vehicle.” If you choose to go this route, be careful to only refuse consent verbally. Never physically try to prevent an officer from looking inside your car. Alternatively, you may want to ask the officer if you are free to leave. If you are, leaving the traffic stop is an effective way to keep officers from searching your vehicle. 

You may have nothing to hide. Still, you probably do not want officers looking inside your car. By understanding how to refuse a motor vehicle search, you may keep yourself out of hot water.

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