Can a Cop Search My Vehicle If I Was Stopped for a Broken Taillight?

Typically, when police stop a person for moving violations or other traffic laws, it does not extend to a search of the vehicle unless the officer has reasonable suspicion that the car's occupants violate another law as well. Probable cause that a criminal offense is active is sufficient to search the vehicle even if the cop only stopped the driver for a broken taillight.

Reasonable Suspicion

For a police officer to have the ability to search a vehicle with a valid reason, he or she must first have reasonable suspicion that the driver or passenger is committing something illegal. This usually is the result of the officer observing something such as someone in the car drinking alcohol, drugs in the open or illegal firearms observable from the vehicle in motion. Without any facts or evidence that support the suspicion, any arrest is not usually legitimate. To search the car, the cop must rely on reasonable suspicion and not a hunch, or the act is a violation of the United States Constitution.

Stopping for Reasonable Suspicion

If the officer only saw a broken taillight
and nothing to suspect that the driver or passengers were engaging in illegal activity, a search is usually not an option after stopping the car. However, if contraband is viewable or the cop is able to smell something that the driver or passenger should not have in the car, he or she may often search because of the reasonable suspicion that something is happening in the car in violation of the law. He or she may also search if the driver admits to guilt for a crime.

These facts present in the situation may provide the ability to search the vehicle to the police officer which could lead to an arrest.

What Is Not Probable Cause

If the officer stops a person for a legitimate reason such as a broken taillight, speeding or other minor traffic or moving violations, this does not provide the cop with the authority to validly search the car. These real reasons to stop the driver are not probable cause. The police may stop the person and fluster him or her enough that it leads to a search of the vehicle. This driver may need to contact a lawyer immediately to understand what rights he or she has in the situation. Additionally, knowing the definition of probable cause is not often enough. This leads to following certain rules in these encounters

The Rules of Police Encounters

The individual behind the wheel should follow and stick to certain rules to avoid suspicion even if there is nothing to find in the car. This requires he or she remains calm, cool and collected even when facing police officers. By observing this tip, the person can avoid tricks cops may use to lead to the giving up of constitutional rights. It may also help the individual drive away safely without a search of the vehicle. It is important to only reach for items when the police officers ask for them to include paperwork such as registration.

Remaining Silent

When facing police pulling the driver over, he or she should only give the details that the officer requests. Other than that, this person should remain silent during the rest of the encounter. There is no need to provide additional information about anything other than the broken taillight. By remaining calm and silent, the individual behind the wheel can get through the stop without incurring any additional actions by the cops. If any ticket is given for the broken taillight, this person should still remain quiet about it and not complain about the incident.

Search Requests

Without reasonable suspicion or a request to search the vehicle granted by the owner, police need a warrant to look through a car for no other reason after pulling the person over. If the officer orders anyone out of the vehicle, this should occur without complaint. Police may frisk the person if there is a suspicion that he or she is carrying a weapon. However, this does not grant the authority the power to search the vehicle.

Legal Support for Illegal Searches

When there is no reasonable suspicion after the cops pull over a driver for a broken taillight, there is no legal search possible. The lawyer will need to reaffirm this during a hearing during the pre-trial phase of these legal proceedings and protect the rights of the client.

Provided by

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws they may affect a case.

Find a Lawyer