The question of whether or not a police search is allowed after routine traffic stops has been answered by the United States Supreme Court in Knowles v. Iowa and New York v. Belton. The Supreme Court has said that police officers cannot search a car after conducting a routine traffic stop or after issuing a traffic citation such as speeding. However, if an officer asks and receives from the driver consent to search the vehicle, the officer may do so even if there is no suspicion of criminal activity or probable cause.
However, if you are pulled over for a routine traffic violation like speeding, the officer may order the driver and passengers of a lawfully stopped car to exit the vehicle. An officer can even pat the driver and passenger down if reasonable suspicion exists that they might be armed and dangerous. Nevertheless, even if an officer orders the driver and passenger out of the vehicle, he or she cannot search the vehicle absent consent to search or probable cause to search the vehicle.
If a police officer has probable cause to believe it contains contraband or evidence subject to seizure, he or she can then proceed to search the car. For instance, if the officer approaches the vehicle and it smells like marijuana or drugs are in plain sight, probable cause would exist for the officer to search the vehicle. Probable cause, though, requires more than just a hunch or a guess that contraband may be found in the vehicle.
At Henderson & Waterkotte, P.C., our St. Louis criminal defense lawyers routinely challenge the constitutionality of searches and seizures, particularly in drug and weapons cases. Our vigorous defense and aggressive challenges to the prosecution’s case has resulted in great success for our firm and our clients. If you or a loved one has been arrested as a result of a search of you or your vehicle, call us today to schedule a free consultation to learn how we can protect your rights.