Do You Have to Consent to a Vehicle Search?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 25, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Imagine that you're speeding down the highway when you're pulled over.

Come on, it's bound to happen at least once.

But then something different happens--the officer asks if he can look inside your car.

Do you have to consent to the requested vehicle search?


There are three ways in which police may conduct a roadside vehicle search.

The first two involve reasonable suspicion and probable cause, both of which require evidence that you're dangerous, carrying illegal contraband, or have been or will be involved in the commission of a crime.

If an officer has sufficient evidence for either of these, he may search part of or all of your car without your permission.

The third way in which an officer may legally conduct a vehicle search is if he has the owner's consent.

However, you do not have to consent.

To determine how you should respond to an officer, politely ask whether he is making a request to search your vehicle, or whether he has reasonable suspicion or probable cause. If it's not a request, step away from the car and say nothing.

If it's a request, whether you want to allow a vehicle search is up to you, but if you decide to say no, don't be rude about it.

Kindly tell the officer that, despite the fact that you have nothing to hide, you wish to invoke your Constitutional rights, and will not consent to a vehicle search.

If he proceeds to do it anyway, reiterate the fact that you are not consenting, and allow him to conduct the vehicle search. Then do yourself a favor and contact a civil rights attorney to learn about any available legal remedies.

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