Most drivers end up pulled over by police at some point in their lives. The issue may be something minor that an officer gives a warning for and then allows the driver to go on his or her way, or the situation could be ticket-worthy. In other instances, an officer may stop a vehicle for a minor violation or for reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence.

In cases where officers suspect that a driver is under the influence or has illegal substances in the vehicle, the traffic stop can become out of the ordinary. For example, you may expect a North Carolina officer to ask for your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance, which you would hand over readily. However, you may want to pause if an officer wants to search your vehicle.

Consent and probable cause

Though an officer may suspect that you are doing something illegal, such as carrying drugs inside your vehicle, he or she cannot simply start searching your vehicle without either your consent or probable cause to do so. With probable cause, an officer could search your vehicle if evidence exists that wrongdoing has occurred, such as having substances or drug paraphernalia in plain sight or an officer smelling the odor of a substance, like marijuana.

When it comes to giving your consent, you may want to remember that you have the legal right to refuse a vehicle search. An officer may attempt to catch you off guard by saying something like “I can take a look inside your vehicle, right?” or “You don’t mind if…?,” and in many cases, drivers may quickly give the OK without fully thinking about it. However, these subtle manipulations could put you in a difficult spot if you do not recognize the right to refuse.

Illegal searches

Unfortunately, some officers may not abide by the rules and may search your vehicle without probable cause or your consent. Such scenarios can seem unfair, and if such a search leads to your arrest, you may feel that the entire situation is unjust. You would not be wrong in that feeling, and if an officer does conduct an illegal search that leads to you facing drug charges, you may want to use that information as part of your criminal defense. Providing such details to a knowledgeable attorney could be vital.