Can a Cop Search My Car Without a Warrant?
Under the Fourth Amendment, you are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, and, in general, law enforcement is required to obtain a warrant before conducting a search. The purpose of this law is to protect a person’s right to privacy.
Whereas in your home you can maintain a sense of privacy, in your car you are mobile and out on public streets so your privacy interests are reduced. While an officer cannot unreasonably search your vehicle, they generally have more leeway when inspecting vehicles and do not always need a warrant.
An officer can search your vehicle if they have probable cause to do so. That means some fact or evidence has demonstrated that criminal activity has occurred or will likely occur. If, upon pulling you over for a traffic violation, they see or smell something in the vehicle, such as drugs, they can conduct a search. However, they cannot conduct a search simply because of the traffic violation.
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Consent to Search
The officer can also search your vehicle if you give consent for them to do so. They can ask you for permission but cannot use coercion or threats to make you agree. You can respectfully decline their request, and doing so is not an admission of guilt nor does it mean the officer can lawfully arrest you.
Incident to Arrest
If the officer has reason to make an arrest, they may be able to search your car if they believe their safety is at risk. They do not have the authority to search the entire vehicle; they can look only in areas where dangerous items could be concealed, such as in a glove compartment.
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Police can legally search your vehicle if they have detained you and your car was towed to an impound lot. They can look in all areas of your car while it’s impounded.
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If your vehicle is searched without probable cause or your consent, any evidence obtained would be inadmissible in court. A skilled lawyer will thoroughly examine your circumstances and question how evidence was obtained. Our lawyers at White Law PLLC have over 60 years of combined legal experience and know the laws concerning evidence presented in your case. We will fight hard to protect your rights and ensure you receive a fair trial.
To discuss your case with our team, call us at (517) 316-1195 or contact us online.