Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause
Just to help clarify things for anyone that might be confused. I am a CA attorney. But, of course, this isn't legal advice in the strictest sense.
Reasonable suspicion allows a LEO to search any part of a car that is within the immediate control of the suspect. Such suspicion is only reasonable when the officer has a "reasonable belief" that you are in the commission of a crime.
Reasonable suspicion is a very low standard, so any strange behavior on your part could give a LEO reasonable suspicion. A "reasonable suspicion" search extends to the glove compartment, floor, your person, anything within your reach. Essentially, the entire cabin of the vehicle. If an officer should find any kind of contraband while performing a reasonable suspicion search, it may give him PROBABLE CAUSE to extend the search to the rest of the vehicle, INCLUDING THE TRUNK. Such contraband needn't necessarily be illegal, either.
Hypothetically, let's say you get pulled over and for whatever reason, you forget to act graciously and are instead argumentative. The LEO could claim that your behavior gave him reasonable suspicion to believe that you were engaged in illegal activity. This could allow the LEO to search the cabin of your vehicle. Let's also say that he found an empty mag or some shell casings that you didn't put in your range bag.
This could give them PROBABLE CAUSE under the "officer safety" doctrine, which could extend their search, WITHOUT NEED FOR YOUR CONSENT, to the rest of the vehicle, INCLUDING YOUR TRUNK. Once inside the trunk, he would find your OLL or what-have-you. At this point, worst case scenario, the LEO will assume you are in possession of an assault rifle. This is where it gets sticky, and you may have to jump through many subsequent legal hoops to prove that you are not, in fact, perpetrating any crime.
Basically, this is just a long-winded reiteration of previous posts; don't get pulled over. If you do, be gracious and apologetic. Just remember that if you don't act square with the LEO, it can escalate into a full blown search very quickly if he should be so inclined. DON'T GIVE A LEO ANY REASON TO SUSPECT YOU OF ANYTHING. Once you're pulled over, the LEO is in control of the situation. However, it is your job as an informed citizen to know the limits of his powers. If you do not CONSENT to a search and you are polite and gracious, an officer should have absolutely no reason to search you or your vehicle.
Last edited by Jagermonster; 08-24-2009 at 3:27 PM..