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Can a Police Officer Search My Car During a Wisconsin Traffic Stop?

Being pulled over by a police officer can be an intimidating experience. Worse, sometimes traffic stops can progress to searches, questioning, and even arrest. It is important to understand your rights to ensure that they are not violated. As Madison, WI criminal defense attorneys, we see cases where individuals consented to a search because they did not realize they had the right to refuse.

When is it okay for the police to search my car during a traffic stop?

In order to search your car, the police officer must either have probable cause, an admission of guilt, or consent or a search warrant. Probable cause means that the officer can see illegal material in plain view, or clearly smell drugs or alcohol. The officer may pressure you to agree to the search, and will likely not inform you of your right to refuse the search.

Remember- you always have the right to refuse the search, at which time the search can only occur if the officer has probable cause or a search warrant. If an officer has searched your car without consent, a search warrant, or probable cause and you now face charges, contact a criminal defense lawyer right away.

How can I refuse the officer, if they pressure me to search my car?

If an officer pressures you to allow them to search your car, politely refuse. Say, “I understand you are just doing your job, however I will not consent to a search.” Many individuals accept a police search of their vehicle because they do not realize that they have the right to refuse. The 4th Amendment protects your right to refuse an unlawful search. Refusing the search does not mean you are admitting guilt.

I don’t have anything illegal in the car, should I just allow the search?

While you may feel that you have nothing to hide and feel compelled to comply with the search, remember that anything they find can be used against you. Do you have prescription medication that isn’t in a bottle, or belongs to someone else? Is it possible there is contraband hidden in your car by a previous owner or passenger? In general, it is best to refuse the search to protect yourself.

What happens if an officer searches me without probable cause, even after I refuse?

If an officer searches you without consent or probable cause and during that search finds contraband, that material can be suppressed in court. If you believe an officer has violated your rights, contact an experienced criminal lawyer in Madison right away.