When a Missouri law enforcement officer stops your car and wants to look around, knowing and understanding your rights may serve you well. During a traffic stop, the rights you have during a traffic stop differ from those you have at your own home, and you should not expect the officer on the scene to inform you of them.
FlexYourRights.org reports that, while authorities need to have your consent or a warrant before they may search your house, this is not the case when it comes to searching your car during a traffic stop. Without your consent or a warrant, the officer on the scene needs to have probable cause before conducting a search of your car.
Examples of probable cause
Probable cause means the law enforcement officer has to have seen, smelled or heard something indicating that criminal activity took place, or is taking place. An officer’s hunch or suspicion alone does not constitute probable cause. However, if the officer sees drugs, stolen property or something similar during the traffic stop, this may give him or her a valid reason to search your car without your consent.
The absence of probable cause
Without a warrant, your permission or probable cause, an officer does not have the right to search your car during a traffic stop. Be wary, though, because the officer on the scene may try to get around this by using certain tactics to get you to consent to the search. If you do not want the search to take place and the officer lacks legal grounds to do it, tell him or her politely that you do not consent to the search.
It almost always pays to stay calm and civil when interacting with law enforcement. It may also behoove you to say as little as possible during the interaction.