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Your rights regarding warrantless vehicle searches

You may have been told authorities cannot legally search your property without first having a warrant. Is this true? The answer is a bit more complicated than you might think, especially when it comes to vehicles. If you are pulled over in New York and officers ask to search your car, can they do so without a court warrant?

If you are pulled over for a minor traffic violation, officers may ask to search your vehicle without a warrant. The automobile exception rule allows warrantless searches, under certain conditions. An officer would need probable cause to suspect a crime has been committed, is in progress or is about to be committed. Your behavior – such as appearing overly agitated, nervous, combative or impatient – during the stop might also lead to probable cause.

If officers ask to search your car, the following steps may protect your rights:

  • Ask to see a warrant, and tell them you do not consent to the search.
  • If the search continues anyway, do not interfere, as this would likely lead to an arrest.
  • Invoke your right to remain silent. Cooperate with the officers, but do not offer information.

Understanding the basics regarding searches and warrants may give you some peace of mind if you are pulled over. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, you have the right to refuse a search of your property if there is no warrant. You also have the right to ask to see the warrant before a search commences. Officers may still attempt to pressure you into allowing the search, and you may be afraid you will be arrested if you do not agree. Fortunately, you will not be arrested simply for not consenting to a search. More than likely, after a search of your vehicle, you will be allowed to continue on your way.

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