Often, legal trouble starts with a Tennessee traffic stop. However, knowing and understanding your rights when authorities stop your vehicle may help you avoid unnecessary hardships. While law enforcement officers need to have a warrant before they may search your home without your permission, this is not necessarily the case during a traffic stop.
According to FlexYourRights.org, if authorities want to search your vehicle during a traffic stop and they do not have your consent or a warrant, they may still be able to move forward with the search. Whether they may do so depends on if they have something that constitutes “probable cause.”
Examples of probable cause
Probable cause means a law enforcement officer has more than just a feeling or suspicion that something unlawful is taking place or has taken place. To meet the probable cause threshold, an officer has to has some type of proof or evidence of wrongdoing.
For example, seeing contraband or drugs in your front seat may give authorities a valid reason to conduct a search of the rest of it. Sometimes, even smelling something illegal coming from a car is grounds for a subsequent search.
The absence of probable cause
Without probable cause, your consent or a warrant, you keep the right to refuse a search request of your vehicle. Should you opt to exercise this right, inform the officer on the scene that you do not consent to a search. Then, ask if you are free to go on with your day or night.
Even if the officer who stops you lacks a warrant, consent or probable cause, try to remain polite and courteous during your interactions with him or her to avoid escalating the situation unnecessarily.