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When Are Maryland Police Allowed to Search Your Vehicle?

Although you do have fewer constitutional rights regarding searches of your vehicle than of your home or person, you still do have some protections against unreasonable searches from law enforcement officers. This protection is guaranteed through the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But what exactly is considered a reasonable search when you have been pulled over?

There are three primary types of vehicle searches:

  • Search incident to arrest. This type of search allows officers to search the immediate vicinity of the driver (anywhere the driver can reach) when police have the authority to place the driver under arrest.
  • Inventory search. When police arrest a driver and then impound the car, they search the vehicle to create an inventory of all items inside of it. This prevents civil liability for loss or damage of property.
  • Probable cause search. Police officers are allowed to conduct a motor vehicle search when they have a “reasonable suspicion” the driver has a weapon or some evidence of a crime for which they have made the traffic stop.

There are some other considerations to take into account regarding vehicle searches. If, for example, you have a large bag of marijuana on the passenger seat in plain sight, officers will have the right to search your vehicle due to probable cause. If the officer smells alcohol on your breath while you talk, he or she will likely ask you to step out of your car to perform a field sobriety test and conduct a quick search of your automobile for open containers.

If officers do not have a legal basis to search your vehicle, they may ask for your permission to conduct a search. You do not have to consent — if the officer has to ask, he or she almost certainly does not have the grounds to conduct the search. Once you give your consent, it becomes much more difficult to challenge an officer’s findings.

For more information regarding your rights when pulled over and when officers are allowed to search your vehicle, speak with a skilled criminal defense lawyer at Mudd, Mudd & Fitzgerald, P.A. in La Plata, Maryland.

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