Interacting with Authorities

If I get pulled over while driving, can the police search my vehicle?


It depends! The constitution does not allow the police simply to go on a fishing expedition to find evidence of a crime. The police can’t search the car just because they pulled you over for speeding and want to see what else might be in your car.

However, Pennsylvania applies the federal constitutional principle that a police officer does not need to first obtain a search warrant to search an automobile so long as the officer has probable cause to believe evidence of a crime is inside the vehicle. So, if the officer pulls you over for speeding then smells marijuana when you open the window, the officer would have probable cause to search the vehicle. In that instance, the officer would not necessarily need your consent to search the vehicle. Even so, if you object to the search, you should calmly and politely tell the police officer that you do not consent to the search. That will protect your rights in the event you later challenge, in court, the officer’s determination of whether there was sufficient probable cause to search your vehicle. Ultimately, a judge will have an opportunity to review that officer’s decision.

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