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How far can police go when they pull you over?

The reasons are not always evident why a police officer may want to search your car during a routine traffic stop. It may be that your car or clothing match the description of someone wanted for a crime. It could be the officer thinks you are acting suspiciously even though you may simply be nervous. Or the officer may want to search your car because you are young, and that alone may raise an unreasonable level of mistrust.

If a police officer doesn't have probable cause, he or she needs one of two things to search your vehicle: a warrant or your permission. Without probable cause, it's not likely a judge will issue a warrant. This is why the police will take advantage of your nervousness to trick you into giving them permission to search your vehicle.

What is probable cause?

Probable cause to pull you over is not the same as probable cause to search your vehicle, so just because your taillight is out doesn't mean they can search. Some examples of probable cause for searching your car may include:

  • Smelling alcohol on your breath
  • Seeing a container of alcohol in the car
  • Smelling another substance, such as marijuana, in the car or on your body
  • Hearing you or someone in your car admit that they are guilty of a certain crime

If these factors are not present, the officer may try to convince you it is in your best interests to allow a search. You have the right to refuse the search. The officer may tell you that refusing the search makes you look guilty or that you can prove your innocence by allowing him or her to have a look. Refusing a search is not an admission of guilt.

To confuse you, police may form the command as a request, saying, "You don't mind if I check inside, do you." You can gently but firmly repeat that you do not consent to the search.

It's not too late to protect your rights

Knowing your rights when North Carolina police pull you over may make a difference in the outcome of the situation. Remaining calm and polite as you assert your rights will also give you an advantage. However, if you have already been charged with a crime as a result of a police search, or if you feel your rights were violated, you have the right to legal counsel.

An attorney with comprehensive experience and a history of success at all stages of the criminal process can improve your chances of a positive outcome. Having a strong advocate to defend your rights may result in a reduced charge or in the dismissal of the charges against you.

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