Many people experience anxiety when they see blue lights flip on in their rear-view mirrors, and this may occur even if they are not doing anything wrong. It makes sense that a traffic stop may make you nervous or uncomfortable, but understanding what rights you have in this situation may help put your mind at ease the next time it happens.
Per Flex Your Rights, the rules regarding when authorities may search your vehicle are different than those relating to when law enforcement officers may search your home.
The warrant factor
To search your home in the absence of your consent, a law enforcement officer must first secure a warrant. If a law enforcement officer wishes to search your car and you refuse the request, he or she may be able to move forward with the search anyway if something called probable cause exists.
The probable cause factor
“Probable cause” refers to some type of evidence or admission that something illegal is taking place. For example, authorities may be able to search your car during a traffic stop without your consent if they see something illegal, such as an illegal substance, on your front or backseat. They may also have probable cause to search your vehicle after smelling something illegal emanating from it, among other possible situations that may constitute probable cause.
If an officer lacks a warrant or probable cause and you do not want your car searched, state as much. Be clear, firm and polite when doing so. Also, keep in mind that, while the 4th Amendment protects your right to refuse search requests, authorities do not have any obligation to tell you this.