When a law enforcement officer shows up at your door and requests to look around, you have the option of refusing to allow him or her to enter in the absence of a warrant. When authorities stop you while you are driving in your car, though, the laws are a bit different. The more you know about your rights under these circumstances, the better the chances of exercising them appropriately. 

Per FlexYourRights.org, there are certain circumstances under which authorities may be able to search your vehicle even when they do not have a warrant. Whether they may do so comes down to whether they have something known as “probable cause.” 

Examples of probable cause

Suspicion alone is not enough to constitute probable cause, but if a law enforcement officer has evidence that something illegal is taking place, this may count as probable cause. If an officer sees an open container of alcohol in your backseat, he or she may consider this probable cause. 

If he or she smells something illegal or hears someone in your car talking about having something suspect, this, too, may count as probable cause. 

The absence of probable cause

In the absence of probable cause, law enforcement officers may not search your vehicle unless you give them consent to do so. If you do not consent to have your vehicle searched, express your wishes clearly by saying, “I do not consent to a search.” 

Keep in mind that you do not have to answer any questions during the stop, either. You have a Fifth Amendment right not to do so, but again, if you plan to exercise it, tell the officer politely that you are doing so.