Question: Do police officers need a reason to pull you over also can they search your car without a warrant
The short answer to your question is, yes, the police do need a reason to pull over your vehicle on the highway. The leading U.S. Supreme Court decision on this issue is Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996). Essentially, the police must be able to express a "reasonable articulable suspicion" that one or more occupants of the vehicle have committed, will commit, or are committing a criminal offense or traffic infraction. It can be something as simple as a vehicle not having a registration label or license plate, or even a working tail light. But it does have to be *something.* The officer cannot simply say, "Well, Your Honor, I just had a funny feeling that things weren't quite right."
The burden of proof for justifying a vehicle stop lies somewhere between a mere hunch (which is not good enough) and probable cause (which is more than enough). Concerning the subsequent search of the vehicle, the police generally need probable cause to believe that they will find evidence of a crime. They do not *have* to have a warrant-although that certainly helps. The reality is that automobiles do not enjoy nearly the same expectation of privacy as a personal residence. There are many reasons for this rule, but the bottom line is that there are many ways for the police to legitimately search a motor vehicle once it is lawfully pulled over. Automobile search and seizure law can get pretty complex, but hopefully you get the idea!
November 29, 2006