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Traffic stops and vehicle searches: Two things to know

On Behalf of | May 17, 2024 | Criminal Defense

It can be distressing when a Georgia law enforcement official pulls you over and asks to search your car. You might think that during such situations, you have no choice but to yield. It is important to know that you have rights and that it may be completely within your rights to refuse the request.

In most instances, authorities need to have a warrant in their possession before they can start searching through your home. When they want to search your car, however, this is not always the case. What they need is to have probable cause.

Defining probable cause

Probable cause is what the law enforcer believes to be proof or evidence that you are doing something illegal. When they have it, they may ask to search your vehicle. An example is when you have drugs or contraband in plain sight within your vehicle, giving the officer sufficient reason to look for the rest of it. It can also be when the officer gets a whiff of an illegal substance. An admission of guilt for a specific crime may also count as probable cause.

A simple hunch without evidence of illegal activity is generally not enough. The officer must be able to support their allegations.

Minor traffic violations on their own also do not count as probable cause, so while an officer may apprehend you for it, they should not search your car.

What to do when an officer pulls you over

The first thing to remember when an officer pulls you over is to stay calm and polite. You should also avoid talking back or raising your voice with a police officer. Hostility will not help your case. It is also a good idea to place your hands where they can see it. Answer questions as calmly as you can, and when in doubt, remember that you have the right to remain silent. They may use what you say against you in court.

Remember, you can often decline an officer’s request to search your vehicle. You want to be polite and respectful when doing so.