Being pulled over or investigated by a police officer is always a nerve-wracking situation. Luckily, the law protects you in many ways but you still need to understand what an officer can and cannot do.
In most cases, police officers need a warrant to search your home or car. However, a few exceptions exist.
The “plain view” doctrine
Police can legally search and seize evidence from you if the object was considered “in plain view.” For example, if an open can of beer is in your cup holder when you are pulled over on suspicion of DUI, the officer may take the beverage from your car as evidence because it was clearly visible without performing a full search of the car.
New York’s automobile exception rule
In New York, police officers can also search a vehicle without a warrant if they have reason to believe the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. For example, if an officer stops you for a valid reason, such as speeding, but can smell the scent of marijuana in or around your car, he or she may search the car because there is reason to believe the car contains other criminal evidence or items.
What if an officer searches me illegally?
Despite these laws, some officers attempt to search people illegally. If an officer is going to conduct a search, ask if they have a warrant. Ask to see the warrant if they claim to have one.
If they do not have a warrant or probable reason to search you, you can protect yourself legally by stating that you do not consent to being searched. It is possible they may search you anyway, but they are legally accountable for searching without a warrant when you have not given them consent to do so.