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Albert M. Quirantes | Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Office

Can a Police Officer Search My Car During a Traffic Stop in South Florida?

You’re driving in Miami or Fort Lauderdale one night, and you see the blue and red lights flashing behind you.

You’re going to get stopped. It’s especially important now to understand your rights, especially regarding a possible search of your car.

Remember, cops can pull you over for lots of reasons. A traffic violation like speeding or running a stop sign. Defective safety equipment like faulty taillights or turn signal. Even swerving on the road, which might give them reason to believe you’re impaired. These are just some of a host of traffic infractions that may cause you to be stopped.

But just because a police officer pulled you over, does that mean the cops can search your car for evidence of other crimes?

Very often, the answer is no. But that all changes if the police officer asks you for permission to search your car, and you give consent. Indeed, ask any experienced criminal defense attorney in Miami, and he or she will warn you that many searches should have been avoided in the first place.

Police officers have many ways to pressure you into allowing a search. They could “ask” you to consent in a way that sounds like a demand. Or they’ll say that there’s nothing to be afraid of if you’ve done nothing wrong – implying that if you don’t give permission, you must be a criminal. In that case, cops want you to think that saying “no” will give them reason to search you anyway because you’re acting guilty.

But never think they’re bluffing about a search. Or that, if you just say yes, they’ll assume you have nothing to hide and just let you go on your way. If they’re asking for consent, they know they need it – and if you give it to them, they’ll use it. So, never consent to a search. If the cops have probable cause to arrest you, they will. If they want to search your car, they need a warrant.

What if you’ve done nothing wrong; why not just let them search? Bad idea. You never know what may have been left you in your car, whether by you or a passenger. Or if something could be planted. And never forget seizure and forfeiture laws that mean that a police officer can take away property that you legally own, such as your car, cash or a firearm, leaving it up to you to spend considerable time and money to try to get back even if you aren’t charged with a crime. Even in your best case scenario, you could have your car turned practically upside down, suffer possible damage to your property or the interior of your car, and lose a lot of time and peace of mind.

So when a police officer asks you to open your trunk or if he can search your car, politely say no and invoke your right to an attorney. At that point, the officer might occasionally search anyway. But if he does, he has violated your rights, and your criminal defense lawyer should be able to get the results of the search suppressed and the criminal charges thrown out.

There’s another possibility. If you deny consent, the officer can order a police dog for a drug sniff. Good news, though: under a case decided earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Rodriguez v. United States that the police can’t extend a traffic stop just so that they can have a dog sniff your vehicle. That means that, unless he has a reasonable suspicion, only if the sniff can happen in the amount of time it takes to (a) run your license, insurance, and tag, (b) check for warrants, and (c) write your ticket. That probably can’t happen unless the cop already has a dog with him. Most police officers—even in Miami, Key West, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach — don’t have a police dog riding shotgun with them.

Once you’ve denied consent to a search and received your ticket or warning, ask if you’re free to go, and if you are, politely and calmly leave. If not, remember you have the right to remain silent and to refuse to consent to a search.

But remember there’s another way it can be legal for a cop to search your car: if you or your passenger gives them probable cause. Say that you or your passenger tries to hide something as the police officer approaches your vehicle. Or that he can see out in the open something like an open bottle of alcohol or drug paraphernalia. Either of these could open you up to a legal search of the vehicle.

How else can they search your car? They generally can do it if you’ve been arrested. For example, if you’re arrested under suspicion for driving under the influence, they can search your vehicle.

Here are five tips to avoid unwanted trouble, traffic stops, or searches in Miami-Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach or Monroe County:

  • Always have your vehicle registration and proof of insurance easily accessible. You don’t want to dig through your glove compartment, which can cause the cop to claim that your nervousness or fumbling around indicated that you were impaired by alcohol.

  • While talking to the police officer, be polite but don’t admit anything. No, you don’t know why he pulled you over.

  • Don’t get out of your car unless he asks you to. If you do, shut and lock the door behind you.

  • Remember that, if a cop is being nasty or rude with you, he could simply be trying to get you to consent to a search, say something incriminating about yourself, or to make a physical or verbal threat toward him. Keep calm, and ask if you’re being detained or if you’re free to go.

  • Every month or so, check all of your vehicle lights. Headlights, brake lights, run signals – even your license plate light. Don’t give police officers in south Florida a reason to pull you over.

If you know your rights, you can best protect your name and your freedom. On that note, make sure you know the answer to “What Are Your Miranda Rights in Florida?” It’s all the more important because “What You Don’t Know About Your Right to Remain Silent COULD Be Used Against You in a Court of Law.” And if you’ve been arrested, then you should hire an experienced, aggressive criminal defense lawyer. But if you don’t know how to pick the best criminal defense attorney for you, then consider these “Five Questions to Ask a Lawyer.”

Increase your knowledge! If you want to know more about how to resolve the problems you face when charged with a criminal offense in Florida, then you can follow Miami Criminal Attorney Albert M. Quirantes on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

If you have any questions about this or any other criminal accusation, call Miami Criminal Defense Lawyer Albert Quirantes at: 305-644-1800 or visit our homepage for a direct link to the office or a text message or a map and directions to our office.

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