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When can the police conduct a vehicle search?

On Behalf of | Feb 4, 2022 | Criminal Defense

It’s important to know the laws that may apply to you when you drive your vehicle. Something you should be aware of is if and when it’s legally allowed for an officer to search your vehicle.

Did you know that the police can search your vehicle without a warrant in some cases? To do this, they will need to show that they have probable cause.

Your Fourth Amendment rights matter

Anyone in America should be aware of their Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment protects you against unlawful searches and seizures. In general, this amendment also makes it so that the police cannot perform searches without a valid reason for doing so. To search your vehicle, they will need:

  • A warrant
  • Your permission
  • Another valid reason

Vehicles are unique in that the courts have said that people have a lower expectation of privacy when they drive compared to if they’re at home. As a result, the police do have a little more freedom when searching a vehicle versus a residence.

That said, the police still need to have a warrant or probable cause.

When can an officer search your vehicle without a warrant?

The only times that an officer may search your vehicle without a warrant are when:

  • You have already been arrested and a search is being performed in relation to that arrest
  • The officer believes that they need to search your vehicle to protect themselves, such as if they believe you’ve hidden a weapon in your vehicle
  • The officer thinks there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle
  • You gave the officer consent
  • The officer sees something in plain view

Officers may also search your vehicle if it is towed and impounded, which is something to consider if you’re given the option of having someone pick up your vehicle or having it towed to the impound.

You have the right to privacy in most circumstances, but if an officer says they’ll search your vehicle, you should also recognize if it is legal for them to do so. If it was not legal, then that could help your case.