You can probably point to a culmination of movies, television and news clips for the confusion you feel when you try to recognize when police can and cannot search your vehicle. Even people who have been through an officer’s search of their vehicle may not fully understand the rules.
When an officer performs an illegal search of a car, the evidence they found might not be admissible if the incident turns into a court case. While police do not always need a warrant to conduct a search, there are times when your actions could make an otherwise illegal search legal.
Here are a few of the things you should know about law enforcement searching your vehicle.
Your permission helps them, not you
It is critical to be polite and respectful to the officer who pulled you over during a traffic stop. You do need to give identifying information, but you can kindly tell the officer you wish to remain silent.
While you are talking to the officer, it may seem easier to comply with all their requests. However, if they ask to search your vehicle and you agree, their search no longer requires a warrant. Although there are times when an officer may search your car without a warrant, giving permission eliminates the need for a warrant at all.
Police do not always need a warrant
When an officer pulls you over, they must have a reasonable suspicion that you violated a traffic law. They cannot pull you over just to satisfy their curiosity. If the officer wants to search your vehicle without a warrant, they can, but under limited circumstances, such as:
- You consented
- There is probable cause your car contains evidence related to a crime
- Preserve office safety if the officer reasonably believes there may be a weapon or other dangerous item in the car
- A search related to your arrest, such as a search for an open alcohol container
- An inventory search of an impounded vehicle
If an officer performs a search without a warrant and without your consent, they will need to establish that one of the limited circumstances applied; otherwise, the court may suppress (throw out) any evidence the cop found.
Searches can uncover evidence that can be difficult to explain. It is essential to have an experienced attorney on your side when you are facing criminal charges.