Know When North Carolina Police Can and Cannot Search Your Vehicle

Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, dealing with police in the course of a traffic stop can be a nerve-wracking experience. If police suspect you’re involved in illegal activity, they may attempt to intimidate you into giving them permission to search your vehicle. However, it’s important to remember that you are never required under any North Carolina or federal law to give police this permission, and the very fact that you have refused to let them search your vehicle cannot be used against you.


Under all circumstances, law enforcement officers must have probable cause to conduct a search. This means that they must observe activity that would lead a reasonable person to conclude a crime has taken place. This may include seeing a weapon or drugs, or smelling the odor of an alcoholic beverage or marijuana. However, if this probable cause does not exist, anything police discover in the course of the search of a vehicle will almost certainly be deemed inadmissible at trial.


Why You Should Refuse to Let Police Search Your Vehicle


Many North Carolina residents believe there is no harm in letting police officers search their vehicles if they have nothing to hide. However, there are still many reasons to exercise your rights to refuse a search. Police may damage your vehicle while searching for drugs or weapons. You also could be handcuffed in full view of passerby while officers conduct the search, which could hurt your reputation in the community.


Finally, just because you haven’t left any contraband in the vehicle doesn’t mean that your friends or family haven’t left something in there. If police find drugs left there by someone else that you didn’t know about, you will still be arrested and face criminal charges.


What About Warrants and Drug Dogs?


If you continue to refuse officers permission to search your vehicle, they may threaten to go to a judge and get a search warrant. It is important to be polite at all times when speaking with police officers, but you are perfectly within your rights to tell to an officer that you will wait while he gets a search warrant. A judge cannot issue a search warrant if probable cause does not exist.


If police officers suspect that you may have drugs in your vehicle, they may call in a drug-sniffing canine. It is legal for officers to lead a canine around a vehicle to sniff for drugs if one is nearby, however, the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case Rodriguez v. United States made it clear that police officers cannot unnecessarily extend a traffic stop to wait for drug-sniffing dogs.


Even if police find probable cause to search your vehicle, they may not have probable cause to search your trunk if it is separate from the vehicle’s interior, however, whether police have probable cause to search a trunk is often highly dependent on the specific facts of each case.


Charlotte Attorneys Fighting for You


The attorneys at Remington & Dixon, PLLC are committed to the best defense possible for your case. That includes challenging whether the police acted within the confines of the law in the course of a vehicle search. Contact our skilled Charlotte, NC criminal defense lawyers today for a confidential consultation about your case. Our main office is conveniently located in Charlotte.



Are consultations free?

While we offer a free consultation on traffic matters, criminal matters, and most professional license defense cases, we charge a fee for family law consultations to personalize our consultations to your specific needs. To learn about our fee structure, please get in touch.

Where can I get legal advice?

We recommend meeting with an attorney. While there is free legal help available for North Carolina residents from pro bono resources for civil matters, and public defenders for criminal cases, the best way to access tailored advice is to hire a lawyer.

Can I hire you if I’m in another state?

This is done on a case by case basis if you are involved in a family law, criminal, or professional disciplinary matter that involves another jurisdiction.



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