Had my escort 9500i mounted on the windshield and passed a VA trooper last November. His radar was off, but I saw him up ahead so I slowed down to the speed limit. He pulled out behind me, however, so I quickly pulled the detector off the mount, unplugged it, and threw it in the center console. He pulled me over and asked for the radar detector, saying that he'd seen it on my windshield as I passed him at 70 mph (not sure if he saw it or his spectre saw it or both) I flatly denied having it and stuck to my story. He pressured me for awhile, asked to search the car (I didn't consent), and after running my license, let me go.
I decided to make use of the free legal services we have at my university out of curiosity about the stop. Wanted to know if there was a difference between lying vs refusing to answer, and what grounds he would have had to have searched my car without a warrant. The lawyer I met with seemed pretty interested in this as well, and did some research for me. I learned:
1 - he probably could have searched my car without a warrant, as the threshold of probable cause is pretty low for searching a vehicle (as opposed to one's house). Also, even though possession of a radar detector is technically a traffic crime (less than a misdemeanor), "for purposes of arrest, traffic infractions shall be treated as misdemeanors" and "the authority and duties of arresting officers shall be the same for traffic infractions as for misdemeanors." --> meaning he could look for a radar detector the same way he could look for open alcohol or drugs, assuming he felt he had probable cause in his own opinion (Leeth v. Commonwealth, 223 Va. 335, 340-41).
2 - it might have been better for me to refuse to comment rather than deny I had a radar detector. If he'd found one, I could have been charged with obstruction of justice, interfering with a police officer, etc (not sure if those charges would stick though considering it is just a traffic offense and not deemed "criminal in nature"). Then again, if I'd just refused to answer, who knows, he might have searched the car. Tough call on that one.
Anyway, I'm including the info the lawyer sent me. Hope this is useful.
From what I can tell, the officer did have grounds to search the car.
I am attaching the statute and some case language below.
My guess is that they don't really care about detectors per se, but love the opportunity their presence allows for a search, where they might find what they are REALLY psyched to find: drugs.
SInce you did not fit the profile for drug courier, and otherwise gave no hint of alcohol/drugs in the car, he decided it was more trouble than it was worth to fool around with you.
Bottom line: the device's presence does give them grounds to stop (and presumably seize) contraband.
Thus, to avoid the blue light blues, do NOT display the sucker in the Old Dominion.
457 S.E.2d 398
Sattler v. Commonwealth, 20 Va. App. 366 (Va.App. 05/16/1995)
20 Va.App. 366---
The operation of a motor vehicle equipped with a radar detector to detect radar used by law enforcement personnel is unlawful on the highways of the Commonwealth and constitutes a traffic infraction. Code § 46.2-1079. Traffic infractions are not felonies or misdemeanors but are violations of
[20 VaApp Page 370]
public order and are not deemed criminal in nature. Code § 18.2-8. However, Code § 46.2-937 provides that "for purposes of arrest, traffic infractions shall be treated as misdemeanors" and "the authority and duties of arresting officers shall be the same for traffic infractions as for misdemeanors." If the offense of possession of a radar detector was a misdemeanor, the officer could have searched the defendant incident to the arrest. See Leeth v. Commonwealth, 223 Va. 335, 340-41, 288 S.E.2d 475, 478 (1982) (holding that because the officer possessed probable cause, he could search the car for a radar detector)."