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Do I Have to Let the Police Search my Car? Fourth Amendment Protections

A common question for a Fairfax criminal defense attorney is, during a traffic stop, do I have to let the police search my vehicle? People may have something illegal in their car, but still consent to the search because they think it is required.  This is not the case. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Virginia Constitution both prevent unreasonable searches and seizures. Being stopped for speeding or another traffic infraction does not necessarily give the police the right to search your vehicle. By asserting your rights, you may be able to prevent serious charges that may be filed if the police find contraband in your vehicle.

Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney on What to Do During a Traffic Stop

During a traffic a stop, a person should do the following to ensure their car won't be searched:

  • Be polite and respectful to the officer
  • Remain silent and make no statements admitting to illegal conduct
  • If the officer asks something like, “Do you mind if I look through your vehicle?” simply reply with, “No, sir, I don't consent to the search.”

That last point will likely cause some friction between you and the officer, but stay firm in your rights. In Virginia, it is not necessary for the police to have a search warrant to search a vehicle.  However, the police may not search your car without consent or probable cause of criminal activity.  The officer needs probable cause of a criminal offense to search a vehicle (illegal items in plain view, for instance).

If a search is done without probable cause, the evidence may be thrown out in court as a result of the illegal Search and Seizure.  This may result in the charges being dismissed in court under a doctrine called the Exclusionary Rule.  Police are not allowed to exceed their authority to search vehicles under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Virginia Constitution.

Judges often reach different conclusions about probable cause for a search based on their case experience, personal beliefs about criminal justice, and background.

Many traffic stops are now recorded by the officer on body cameras and cameras mounted on the officer's vehicle.  Any statements made may be used against someone who is stopped in a routine traffic stop.  Be careful what you say and how you say it.  Protect yourself from being charged with a crime by refusing to volunteer incriminating information!

Additionally, Attorney Yeargan personally recommends that all drivers install cameras mounted on their front windshield to record interactions with the police and other drivers.  This can protect you from false claims and statements made against you in court by the police and aggressive drivers making insurance claims.  The cameras are inexpensive and easily installed and may save you great expense and trouble in court proceedings!

If you have been charged with a crime arising out of a traffic stop, contact Fairfax criminal defense attorney Wilfred Ward Yeargan, III. With over 22 years experience in the court room, Mr. Yeargan has experience defending clients from all types of criminal and traffic charges. He will aggressively fight your case and ensure your rights are defended in court.  If your case has issues relating to probable cause and illegal searches, these facts will be explored as a strategic defense.  Contact the Law Office today for a free, initial consultation.

Areas Served by the Law Firm

The law office serves clients throughout Virginia including those in the following localities: Fairfax City; Fairfax County including Annandale, Burke, Centreville, Herndon, and Vienna; the City of Alexandria; Arlington County including Arlington; the City of Falls Church; Augusta County, including Staunton; Fauquier County including Warrenton; Frederick County including Winchester; the City of Fredericksburg; Loudoun County including Ashburn and Leesburg; Clarke County, including Berryville; Fluvanna County, including Palmyra, Prince William County including Occoquan, Triangle, Quantico, Woodbridge, Dumfries, Haymarket, and Manassas; Spotsylvania County including Lake Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse; Stafford County including Stafford, Aquia Harbour, and Falmouth; Warren County including Front Royal; Shenandoah County, including Woodstock; Rappahannock County, including Washington; Madison County; Greene County, including Stanardsville; Fluvanna County, including Palmyra; Caroline County, including Bowling Green; Hanover County; King and Queen County; New Kent County; King William County; City of Hopewell; Prince George County; York County, including Yorktown; Chesterfield County; Henrico County; Westmoreland County, including Montross; King George County; Greensville County, including Emporia; Prince George's County; Dinwiddie County; and Sussex County.