The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens against unlawful searches and seizures by the government. This protection extends to your vehicle. However, just like there are situations where the police can search your home or pat you down, there are certain situations where the police have legal authority to search your car as well.
If you have been charged with a drug crime or other offense based on evidence that the police found in your vehicle, it is critical that you speak with an attorney to determine if the police may have violated your Constitutional rights. If they did, the evidence they found could be inadmissible in court.
Situations Where the Police Can Search Your Car
There are four typical scenarios in which the police can search a suspect’s car. Unlike other situations where the police may be required to obtain a warrant in order to conduct a search, due to vehicles’ mobility, for vehicle searches a warrant generally is not required.
The Police Have Probable Cause to Believe You were Involved in a Crime
The police can search your vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that it contains evidence of a crime. The probable cause does not have to relate to the reason that the police pulled you over. For example, if you were pulled over for speeding, the police may still have probable cause to search your car if you match the description of a suspect in another crime.
The Search is Incident to a Lawful Arrest
If you are lawfully arrested during a traffic stop, then the police can search your vehicle incident to your arrest. For example, if you are pulled over and lawfully arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, the police can search your car for drugs and paraphernalia.
The key here is that the arrest must be lawful. If the arrest is unlawful – for example, if you were pulled over without reasonable suspicion – then any search incident to your arrest will be unlawful as well.
The Officer Reasonably Believes the Search is Necessary for His or Her Own Protection
A third reason that police officers can search your vehicle is a reasonable belief that the search is necessary for the officers’ safety. For example, if your words or actions lead the officers to reasonably believe that you have a weapon within reach, they can ask you to get out of the car and then search your vehicle.
You Consented to the Search
Finally, the police are within their rights to conduct a search if you give your consent, and they do not have to inform you of your right to refuse. If you voluntarily allow the police to search your vehicle – even if none of the above rules apply – then any evidence they obtain during the search may be used against you at trial.
Oberheiden, P.C. | Criminal Defense Lawyers in Houston, TX
To learn more about your rights if you have been arrested and the police searched your vehicle, we encourage you to contact us for a free case evaluation. Call (800) 701-7249 now to speak with an attorney about your case today.