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Do I have to consent to a car search?

If the police pull you over for a traffic violation and request your consent to search your vehicle, your first reaction may be anger—or panic. Either response is understandable. However, it’s vital to know what your rights are in this scenario, especially if there is a chance that they may find something that illegal.

Know that the police cannot search your vehicle after stopping you for a minor traffic violation. However, the police may request a search if your conduct following the stop compels them to or in specific circumstances.

What should you say to the request?

The Fourth Amendment protects you from arbitrary vehicle searches, yet there are notable exceptions. In South Dakota, as in any state, it’s generally not a good idea to consent to a search if anything illegal, like drugs or drug paraphernalia, could be in the car. You have the right to refuse consent. Your refusal may not prevent the search. However, it may clarify the way forward for your defense attorney and give them a stronger position to advocate from.

Four circumstances that qualify as exceptions to Fourth Amendment protections

  • If you give consent. As Midwesterners, we want to be agreeable to other people, including the police. You may think that the police will give you a break if you are nice to them, but this is often not the case when it comes to searches.
  • If the officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime, such as illegal material or substances in plain sight
  • If the officer believes it is necessary for their own protection, in case you are concealing a weapon or something dangerous
  • If the officer has arrested you and the search relates to your arrest

You have legal recourse. A strong defense is possible in South Dakota for unlawful vehicle searches and arrests, either at your initial trial or on appeal, as evidenced by the State of South Dakota vs. Pamela Hanson.