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Recently, I was pulled over for not using my blinker to pull out of a gas station late at night. In reality, it was an excuse to question me and search my car by a department that had never pulled me over and a cop I'd never met. An acquaintance claimed that I was selling prescriptions and the cop started questioning me about my (ex)boyfriend's prescription before I even had a chance to ask why I got pulled over. After 10 minutes of refusing to let him search my car, he claimed he smelled marijuana and told me he had a right to search my car even if I didn't consent. Angry, I let him search and he found nothing.

It wasn't until he finished searching that he asked me for my license and registration. He then ticketed me for not using my blinker and gave me a lecture about how he knows I'm selling and is watching me and it better stop.

My question is this: is this all legal? Especially the part where he doesn't even ask for my ID or registration until after searching my car. Clearly he knew who I was, despite the fact that I've never been in any sort of legal trouble.

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    If the officer has probable cause to suspect that you have committed a crime, he can search you. If he falsely claims to have probable cause, then you have to take him to court or to the department's complaint system (or equivalent), where it will be your word against his. But what do you stand to gain? The specifics of your question also depend on the jurisdiction. For example, it seems that not all states require a turn signal when entering a public road from a private driveway. Where did this happen? – phoog May 10 '17 at 8:11
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Given the current state of law, police can effectively search any car they have stopped on a public road. There is no legal requirement for police to identify any person pursuant to a search of a vehicle.

In fact, in many states the police need probable cause to detain a person and demand identification.

You describe a situation in which you were subject to a detention and search. In general, you have the right to remain silent when questioned by police, and to refuse to consent to searches. If you think your civil rights were violated you can seek redress through the courts.

  • How does the answer work with Rodriguez? (supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-9972_p8k0.pdf) It seems that Rodriguez makes it more difficult for an officer to use a traffic stop as a pretense for a larger investigation absent specific probable cause. Isn't the officer forced to choose between a traffic-stop or a probable-cause stop? A traffic-stop used as a pretense to develop probable cause seems to be limited to the time it would take to issue the traffic citation or warning. – Dave D May 10 '17 at 23:41
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Yes, there is no obligation for cops in any state to ask for ID before investigating a crime. Now, you could argue that he had to know you were you (by checking ID) before investigating an accusation made against you specifically, but they can look up who the car is registered to, so that is generally enough to assume the identity of the driver. And since he was acting on a report that you committed a crime, and searching your car was necessary to investigate that crime, he had enough to search your car without your consent, and could've charged you with another crime for not complying. You giving in to the search was your best option.

If he had no report against you, and did not smell marijuana either, then searching you based on a blind hunch, without your consent, would not be constitutional. But all else being equal, you would have consented by giving in to the threat of a forced search without consent--cops are allowed to lie and coerce. In this scenario, if you instead continued to refuse, then he would not have been able to continue your detention and search, not even for a drug-sniffing dog (Rodriguez v. United States.)

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