In Nebraska, police searches of your home and property typically require a search warrant. However, when you are pulled over in a traffic stop, your vehicle is not treated the same way as your home. Police may be able to legally search you and your car without a warrant.
Police can conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle and its occupants if they believe that they will find evidence of illegal activity. Probable cause to conduct a vehicle search could be obtained by observation before or during the traffic stop. Some observations that could lead to a warrantless police search include:
• The sight or smell of illegal drugs.
• An admission of guilt for a crime.
• A failure to pull over in a reasonable time.
A police officer is allowed to conduct a warrantless search of your vehicle and person if you give them consent to do so. In fact, your consent may allow a search to take place even when a police officer had no probable cause. You may also inadvertently give a police officer probable cause by admitting to a crime during the traffic stop.
Beware of loopholes and games
When a police officer sees no obvious signs of drugs or other illegal activity, they may try to obtain your consent for a search through verbal manipulation. Questions like, “You know you were speeding right?” or “You don’t mind if I have a look in your vehicle?” would be best met with silence. You can also use a polite statement like, “I’m not resisting, but I’m going to remain silent. I do not consent to searches.”
Refusal of a search is not an admission of guilt
Your refusal to consent to a warrantless search during a traffic stop is not an admission of guilt. A lawyer may be able to help you dispute any charges that arose from a warrantless vehicle search that you did not consent to.