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Can police search passengers in traffic stops?

Police sometimes ask to search passengers during traffic stops. Some passengers consent to searches, even though they are not legally required to if they have done nothing wrong.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches. Here are answers to commonly asked questions about police searches of passengers during traffic stops.

Why should I be concerned about police searching me?

Even if you think you have done nothing wrong, what you don't know can hurt you. For example, if you are carrying prescription drugs without a prescription, you could be charged with felony possession of a controlled substance. If you are carrying medical marijuana that you obtained legally in another state, it may be illegal in Florida.

When can police search a passenger in a traffic stop?

To search you, police need either a search warrant or probable cause that you have committed a crime. "Probable cause" requires more than an officer's hunch. The officer needs objective evidence that a crime has been committed, such as visible drugs or drug paraphernalia.

What if I consented to a search because I felt intimated by the police officer?

An experienced criminal defense lawyer may be able to suppress any evidence the officer collected if you consented to the search because you felt intimidated.

What if the police did not have a right to stop the driver?

Police cannot stop a vehicle without probable cause that someone in the vehicle committed a crime. An example of probable cause would be the police officer observing the driver speeding or disobeying a traffic control device. If the stop was illegal, any evidence gathered during the stop may be suppressed.

Can I just walk away from the scene?

If you have not done anything wrong, you can get out of the car and walk away. Police do not have the authority to stop you if you have done nothing wrong. Obviously, you should not run, and you should be polite to the police officer if he or she tries to stop you. You should not resist, even if the officer was wrong. Instead, contact a lawyer.

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