Recently on our DUI forum a user asked, “I was stopped for driving under the influence (DUI) the other night and the police officer told me to get out of the car. I was wondering if I am legally allowed to stay in the car? He also asked me if he could search my car, and I agreed. I am starting to wonder if I could have legally declined his request.”
Most Americans understand that they have certain legal rights. Unfortunately, despite certain protections, either through lack of information about the law, intimidation from the requesting officer, or simply ignorance, many drivers are too quick to relinquish their rights and consent to much more than they should during a traffic stop.
Do you have to get out of the car?
You asked several questions. Let’s first address whether or not you have to get out of your car when the police officers asks you to. Under (Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977); Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U.S. 408 (1997) the courts have ruled that police officers do have the right to insist that you exit your vehicle. Failure to get out of your car could make the officer believe you intend to flee the scene or that you might take another dangerous action against them.
With this in mind, if you are stopped and the police ask you to get out of your car, you should do so without any sudden movements or actions which might alarm the police.
Do I have to allow a search of my car?
Your right to secure your persons, houses, and papers against unreasonable searches and seizures is a right guaranteed to you under the Fourth Amendment. Unfortunately, the courts have also ruled that your right against a warrantless search of your car is not as strongly protected as a warrantless search of your house. In fact, exceptions to this right are referred to as the “automobile exception.”
This does not mean, however, that you have to comply with a request to search your car- no matter how compelling the officer’s request might be. You may hear a question like, “You wouldn’t mind if I took a look in your trunk?” No matter how forceful or how many different ways he asks, you have the right to say “no.” In fact, it’s generally best if you make it clear that you do not consent to a warrantless search by saying, “I do not consent to a warrantless search.”
When can the police search your car?
As mentioned above, there are several exceptions to warrantless searches of your vehicle. In fact, there are reasons that a police officer can perform a search without a warrant even if you do not consent. Common reasons include:
- You have been arrested but you were not secured and you within reach of the passenger compartment at the time of the search
- When “circumstances unique to the automobile context justify a search incident to arrest when it is reasonable to believe that evidence of the offense of arrest might be found in the vehicle”
- The police have probable cause that a driver’s car has evidence of a crime
- They have reasonable suspicion that an occupant of the car may be dangerous or have a weapon
If asked to get out of the car, you need to get out of the car. If asked to search your car, however, you have the right to say “no.” That does not mean, however, that they will not find a legal right to perform a warrantless search anyway.
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