Stirling & O'Connell

Can officers search for drugs during a traffic stop?

If law enforcement officers pull you over for an alleged traffic violation in South Carolina, you should know your rights if they then want to search your car for drugs or anything else.

As reported in the Washington Post, officers do not have the automatic right to search your vehicle during a traffic stop. Instead, they can only legally do the following:

  • Ask you for your driver’s license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance, which you must give them
  • Investigate whatever alleged traffic violation they stopped you for
  • Check with their dispatcher to find out if you have any outstanding arrest warrants and arrest you if you do
  • Write the traffic ticket(s) for whatever alleged violation(s) they believe you committed

Drug searches

Once the officers do the above things, they can do nothing further because the traffic stop has concluded. In the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court Case of Rodriguez v. United States, the Justices held that the only purpose of a traffic stop is to “ensure that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly.” Thus, officers cannot legally do anything that goes above and beyond this purpose, such as searching your vehicle for drugs.

Understand, however, that officers have the right to ask you if they can search your car. If you give them permission, which you most definitely are not required to do, then they can search. They can also legally search your vehicle if they see any drugs or other prohibited items sitting in plain view in your vehicle when they look in the windows.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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Stirling & O'Connell Law Office

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Mount Pleasant, SC 29464

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