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What are my rights during a search by law enforcement?

Law enforcement may want to search you or your vehicle during a traffic stop, but you should know your rights before letting them do anything. It is essential to understand what the law says about this situation to be able to stand up for your rights.

The Alaska Bar Association explains your basic right is to be secure in your person and property, which means officers cannot search you or your vehicle without good cause.

Constitutional rights

The U.S. Constitution gives you specific rights, which include the right against unlawful search and seizure. If an officer does not have a reasonable explanation for conducting a search, then it is not permissible. In some cases, the law will require an officer to have a warrant to legally conduct a search.

If you give your permission for a search, though, you waive your rights. You cannot later say the officer was in the wrong if you said he or she could search your body or property. In addition, officers can conduct searches once you are under arrest or if they believe you have a weapon in your possession.

You do have the right to refuse a search if an officer asks for permission. The refusal is not something a prosecutor can use against you at a later time in court.


When you object to a search, be specific. Let the officer know that you do not consent. If you give permission to search, also be clear. Let the officer know exactly where he or she can search and where he or she cannot search. For example, you may give permission to search your pockets but not your vehicle. State this clearly.

Anything found in an illegal search is something prosecutors cannot use against you in court, so make sure you understand when a search is illegal.