What to do when the police ask to search your car

Published on
May 10, 2023

You’ve been pulled over for what seemed like a routine traffic stop. Maybe you rolled through a stop sign without totally stopping, or you didn’t notice that the speed limit had changed a mile or so back.

Whatever the cause, you’re startled when the officer asks if they can search your car. You have nothing to hide, you think, so why not?

That’s a big mistake. 

Police often misidentify common substances as drugs

You don’t have any drugs in your car, so what’s the big deal? Well, it’s not necessary to have drugs in your car to end up arrested on a drug charge. 

Police officers are inherently suspicious of anything they can’t immediately identify. Once they drag out their field test kits, all bets are off as to whether they’ll incorrectly label some common substance as drugs — and that will end in your arrest.

What sort of things has the police mistaken for drugs? Consider these:

  • Kitty litter that a driver was using to absorb moisture and keep his windows clear
  • Baking soda a couple of long-haul truckers kept on hand 
  • The crumbs from a glazed donut that had fallen on a car floor
  • A Jolly Rancher that a motorist had recently purchased at a candy shop

That’s not even a complete list. The reality is that those $2 test kits the police use to “confirm” their suspicions often give false-positives.

You don’t actually have to have drugs with you for the police to think you have them in your possession — and that can lead to an arrest, huge financial expenses, time behind bars (if you can’t make bail) and the loss of your joband good name. 

The Fourth Amendment gives you the right to decline

Most likely, the officer is just “fishing” and has no real proof you have drugs in your car when they ask. You have a right to refuse a request for a search — and you should use it. That will force the police to get enough evidence for a warrant before proceeding. It also gives you a way to challenge the basis for the warrant as part of your defense.

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