Oftentimes, a law enforcement officer, when stopping a vehicle, will ask the driver whether they can search their vehicle.  It is surprising how often a person consents to this request when the officer does not have grounds to do so.

In general, the only time an officer is authorized to conduct a search of an individual’s vehicle without a person’s consent is if there is probable cause for them to suspect that the vehicle contains contraband or illicit drugs or if a person in the vehicle is arrested and it is searched “incident to that arrest.”  Most of the time, an individual gives their consent to the officer because they believe that the officer will still search the vehicle if they do not consent.  This is absolutely not the case.  Specifically, an officer only has probable cause to search a vehicle if there is some indication that there is contraband or controlled substance therein.  For example, an officer would have probable cause to conduct a search if they smell marijuana or the contraband or drug is in open or plain view.  “Plain view” is where the contraband or drugs are visible from where the officer is standing outside the car.

So, what are your options if a police officer requests to search your vehicle? The answer is to politely say no.  It is recommended that you state something to the effect of, “Officer, I respectfully decline, as an attorney friend of mine indicated to me that I have the right to refuse consent.”  Or, you can simply state, “No, officer, I do not give you consent to search my vehicle.”  

While the officer may express frustration or anger that you refused to consent to search your vehicle, so be it.  Once the officer has finished writing your citation, they do not have a legal justification for detaining you any longer.  Specifically, it is highly recommended that you quickly leave the scene of the stop rather than be detained by the officer who is conducting an extensive search of your vehicle and likely calling in a canine unit to perform a dog sniff of the inside of your vehicle.  While you may not have any contraband or illicit drugs in your vehicle and you believe that none of your passengers have drugs if a prior owner of the vehicle left drugs therein, or a passenger unbeknownst to you possesses drugs, these can be uncovered by the officer of a drug-sniffing dog could find them.

You may also refuse consent to a search of your vehicle if an officer arrests a passenger and they have been placed in the back of the squad car.  Pursuant to a United States Supreme Court decision back in 2009, if a person who is placed under arrest is not located within the immediate vicinity of the vehicle, e.g., they are in the back of the squad car, the officer does not have the right to conduct a search of the inside of your car “incident to the arrest.”  In order for the officer to have the legal authority to conduct a search of the vehicle, the individual who is arrested must be unsecured, meaning, not be in handcuffs, and they must be located in the area within that person’s immediate control.  

Even if you are the person who was under arrest and placed into the squad car, you still do not have to give your consent for the arresting officer to search your vehicle.  Specifically, under the majority of circumstances, the officer does not have the legal authority to search the vehicle without your express permission to do so.

To reiterate, most drug cases that Florida drug crimes defense attorneys handle where drugs were uncovered in a vehicle involve a driver who gave consent to search their vehicle.  

If you were arrested for having contraband or drugs in your vehicle during a traffic stop, it is vital that you contact a skilled Florida criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.  Even if you were cordial with the officer and did everything correctly, you may nonetheless find yourself in this situation.  Refusing to give consent to a search of your vehicle does not guarantee that the officer will respect your wishes.  However, it will provide you with a viable legal defense that could suppress evidence that the officer seized during the search.  If you were placed under arrest for drugs or contraband after consenting to a search of your vehicle, it is essential that you contact a skilled legal advocate as soon as possible.  

How a Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

As noted above, it is best to hire a Florida criminal defense attorney if you were placed under arrest for drugs or contraband after consenting to a search of your vehicle.  To avoid the undesirable number of difficulties associated with drug charges, it is essential that you have a clear idea as to the actual roles and responsibilities of a criminal defense lawyer.  Undoubtedly, criminal defense is a complex area of law, and safeguarding the legal rights and interests of an accused requires a significant amount of expertise and skills.  Have a look at the roles and responsibilities of a Florida criminal defense attorney:

  • Conducting an assessment of the case – a skilled criminal defense lawyer must conduct a thorough assessment of all aspects of a case.  Even if their client is at fault, the lawyer must handle the case strategically and suggest measures to address the outstanding issues.
  • Collecting Information – an attorney must collect as much information as possible about a criminal matter.  Specifically, they should visit the crime scene to collect information that can support the defendant’s case.  If there are witnesses to the crime, the lawyer must interview them and gather valuable information.  Overall, the lawyer must work vigorously to collect evidence and safeguard it from being manipulated. 
  • Making sure to keep clients in the loop – an attorney must always keep their client updated as to the progress of their case, especially since they most likely must appear in court several times.  
  • Must be knowledgeable and experienced – a skilled criminal defense lawyer has significant experience as well as knowledge about the laws, the court proceeding, their client’s legal rights, and interests, how to deal with the prosecution, and how to handle appeals.  
  • Engaging in a Careful Analysis of the Case – your attorney must be able to analyze and judge your situation well.  Their primary responsibility is to identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case as well as develop aggressive strategies to obtain a dismissal or reduction of the charges.

Who you choose to defend you during this crucial time may impact your future freedom and so much more.  Do not hesitate to turn to our firm for counsel. We bring over a century and half of combined legal insight and experience.  We offer free, confidential consultations! Simply call our Florida criminal defense law firm at 888-484-5057.