By Jed McKeehan

You’ve seen the dramatic car searches on the TV shows, and you might be wondering what you would do if you were asked to allow the police to search your vehicle without probable cause.

First off, why are they searching your vehicle?  They are looking for drugs, drug items, or other things that show evidence that you have committed a crime and give them a reason to arrest.

Should you say yes? There’s nothing to hide so why not?

Or should you say no? You’ve done nothing wrong and they have no reason to search you.

Well, even if you have nothing to hide, I would strongly encourage you to say no.  Remember, they are doing this search for the sole reason of trying to find something that will give them a reason to arrest you.

You may feel like you have to say yes. We are, after all, raised to obey authority and respect police officers. But you do not have to allow them to search your vehicle, even if you don’t have anything in your car.  It does not benefit you to allow them to look inside your ride.  And you do not have to be rude in declining to let them search your car, simply tell them that you decline to let them search your vehicle.

Then the officer may ask you, “Well, why not?  Are you hiding something?”  You do not have to answer these questions.  Even if you are not hiding anything, or have done nothing wrong, it is none of their business what is in your vehicle.  Simply restate that you are declining to allow a search of your vehicle.

You may ask, “If I say no when they ask if they can search my vehicle, will they still search my vehicle anyway?”

Generally, if you say no, they are not able to conduct their search, however, there are exceptions to that rule.  Tennessee state law requires that if you say no, they can still search your vehicle if they can get a police drug dog there within a short period of time, usually 10 – 15 minutes, and the dog must “hit” on the vehicle (typically an indication of drugs) before they can justify searching without permission. But they are not able to hold you for an unreasonable amount of time while they wait for the dog to arrive.

I will warn you, the cops may not care about the rules and decide that they are going to hold you for an unreasonable amount of time, have a dog come and “hit” on drugs, and then arrest you, and forget having to have the dog there within a certain number of minutes.  If this ends up happening, you will end up in jail for at least some period of time as well as charged with a crime, but you may have legal grounds for anything found as part of the search to be inadmissible in court because the search was done illegally.

Coming full circle back to our original question, should you let the cops search your vehicle?  No, there is absolutely no benefit to be had by agreeing to allow cops to search your vehicle.  Politely decline their request, even if you have nothing to hide.

Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.