Better Call Glew: Can Cops Search Your Car Over A Speeding Ticket?

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Jay Brockman
The other day I was pulled over by an OC Sheriff for speeding. When he came up to my car, he told me why he pulled me over and asked me to get out of my car. The cop then had me put my hands on the hood of my car and patted me down. He then looked around the inside of my car with his flashlight. He didn't really open anything or touch anything, he was just looking around. 

After, the search he didn't even write me a ticket and he let me get back into my car and leave.  Can a cop just pull you out of your car and search you and your car for a ticket? The cop even said I was not under arrest when he was searching me.  If I wasn't under arrest, then why did he do what he did?
You, my friend, were on the receiving end of what is known as a Terry search. The United States Supreme Court stated, in Terry v. Ohio, that if an officer has reason to believe he is dealing with an individual who may be armed, officers are allowed to conduct a pat down search of the individual for weapons. The search must be an open-palm pat down, of the exterior of a subject's clothing, and the officer must be able to articulate facts upon which the officer is basing his or her belief that an individual may be armed.

Further, as to the search of your vehicle, it sounds like the officer was again performing a protective sweep for weapons, which again, is legal, so long as the officer can articulate facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that there may be weapons inside the vehicle.  

In your particular case, though, it sounds like the officer may have been overstepping his bounds, by performing a Terry search and protective sweep of your vehicle, as you indicated you were pulled over during the day. I am assuming you were alone in your vehicle since you did not mention anything about passengers being searched.

Given the fact that the stop occurred during the day, presumably, the officer would have a difficult time explaining why he was concerned for officer safety or why he thought you were armed, based upon what you have told me. Terry searches are a common tactic employed by law enforcement, to search for contraband, under the guise of a protective sweep. The best way to prepare for such an encounter is to not leave anything you would not want a police officer to find, in plain sight in your vehicle, or on your person.

Send all your questions to Glew at 
Remember: Better Call Glew!
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