Can the police really search my car?

On Behalf of | Dec 6, 2019 | Criminal Defense

Along Interstate 30, traffic from Little Rock to Dallas and back keeps the Texarkana area busy. It may not seem like much of a surprise that local authorities are active along this corridor. After all, high traffic areas do have higher incidents of accidents and collisions that proactive authorities can help prevent. But the over 13,000 traffic stops that police make along this route are not always for traffic violations. Many Texarkana residents fear that traffic stops can turn into a witch hunt for drug possession or trafficking.

If you worry that the police officer may exaggerate a traffic violation to stop and search your car for evidence of drugs or other illegal activity, here is some advice for handling that interaction without giving away your rights:

  1. Treat the officer with respect, but do not feel that you must answer every question. Police in Texas and Arkansas have the right to require that you show your driver’s license and the registration and insurance for the vehicle you are driving. They can also request to see identification for any passengers in the car. Beyond that, you have the right to request legal counsel before you answer any additional questions. The police must stop questions if you assert that you would like to have a lawyer present.
  2. A police officer may not search your car without “probable cause.” If the police officer sees visible evidence of weapons or illegal substances, she or he may search your car. Barring that, you do not have to consent to letting the police search your vehicle. A traffic violation does not give the police access to search you or your immediate surroundings unless you are on parole.
  3. You have the right to ask to leave. Unless the police officer has a safety reason to detain you, traffic stops should not take longer than 15 minutes. If a traffic stop drags on longer than that, ask the police officer if you may leave.

If a traffic stop does turn into a more involved search, seek legal counsel as quickly as possible. An attorney can typically be the most helpful if involved early to help explain your specific situation to the court.