Can You Refuse a Search of Your Car by Police?

Many people who are pulled over by the police for a traffic violation or any other reason wonder if they are allowed to refuse a police officer’s request to conduct a search of their person and their vehicle.

The answer depends on what you were stopped for. If you were pulled over for a simple traffic violation and the officer issues you a citation – and has no reason to believe that you are engaged in criminal activity or are armed – they cannot search you or your car.

If the police officer does observe suspicious behavior or has reason to suspect you may be armed or dangerous, the law does allow the officer to conduct a “pat down” search of your person and to search the inside of your car. The officer is also allowed to frisk any bags or objects in the vehicle that may potentially house a weapon.

If you allow a police officer to search you and your car, the search will generally be considered valid, even if there was no solid reason for the officer to search. If you refuse a search and the officer decides to arrest you for the minor traffic violation, then the officer can conduct a search.

In general, it is a good idea to refuse a search in situations that allow for it. Your refusal may be ignored, but at least you are already on the record as having refused, which can protect you in court since the officer will have to prove there was reasonable cause to search your vehicle. Saying no may also prevent a search altogether, since it is useless for an officer to conduct a search when he can’t prove probable cause.

The Cogdell Law Firm is a full service criminal litigation and appellate law firm. We provide client-focused representation at all stages of the process, whether our clients are seeking to avoid charges, have been charged, or are seeking reversal of a conviction on appeal. When results matter most, contact Dan Cogdell at (713) 426-2244 or