Having a Maryland law enforcement officer pull you over may cause you anxiety, even if you do not feel as if you did anything wrong. You may feel even more ill-at-ease if the officer who pulls you over asks to take a look around your vehicle during the traffic stop. However, knowing what rights you have in this scenario may go a long way in terms of calming your concerns.
Whether an officer who stops your car may look around it depends on whether that officer has one of three things: your permission, a warrant or probable cause.
What might count as probable cause:
While a search warrant is necessary if a law enforcement official wants to search your house and you do not consent to the search, the bar is a bit lower in a traffic stop. In this situation, an officer wanting to conduct a vehicle search has to articulate facts or have proof or evidence that a crime is being committed, as opposed to just a hunch. For instance, seeing something illegal in the car, or smelling something illegal coming out of it, may give the officer valid legal grounds to move ahead with the search.
What to do when there is no probable cause:
If you do not want the officer to look through your car and he or she lacks a warrant or probable cause, inform him or her that you do not consent to the vehicle search. Typically, the police only ask you for permission if they do not have probable cause.
If you choose to exercise your right to refuse an officer’s search request, be courteous and polite when you do so to avoid potential further trouble.