The U.S. is a demographically, ethnically, and racially diverse country. This diversity leads law enforcement agencies to narrow their focus to certain communities over others through a process called predictive profiling. This can expose some people to an increased chance of facing criminal charges compared to others.
Predictive profiling is the anticipation of who is likely to commit a crime that hasn't occurred yet based upon a person's visible characteristics. This can include their age, gender, style of dress, ethnicity and manner of behavior. Crime statistics reinforce law enforcement's use of predictive profiling.
Traffic stops are perhaps the most common way that most individuals interact with the police. Law enforcement officers receive training to pull over vehicles for valid reasons, such as following their observance of a traffic infraction, discovering an expired license plate or a report of a stolen vehicle.
Many law enforcement officers allow racial profiling to play a role in who gets pulled over. Driving an older vehicle or one that doesn't seem to "fit the driver" might get you pulled over by the police. A police officer can then look at anything in plain view, question those in the vehicle and ask for identification once you've been stopped.
Police officers can only perform warrantless searches of vehicles in limited instances, such as if they have probable cause or the driver consents. They may also be able to do so if a drug-sniffing dog alerts cops to the presence of drugs in the vehicle.
A police officer's observation of weapons or contraband in plain view once they pull you over may constitute probable cause and thus allow law enforcement to conduct a full search of the vehicle and its occupants without consent.
You may find it helpful to learn more about predictive profiling and the rules regarding searches at traffic stops if you're facing drug or weapons charges. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights in such instances and work to craft a defense strategy in your case.