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Know when police can search your car without a warrant

| Apr 1, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Most motorists would respond that they aren’t sure what their rights are if you asked them what to do when a police officer asks to search their vehicle — and that’s a problem. Understanding your rights is key to protecting them.

The circumstances under which a search occurs could affect whether a judge may allow prosecutors to present certain evidence at trial and thus the outcome in your criminal case.

What to know about searches and seizures

Police officers generally must secure a search warrant before entering or looking through an individual’s home or car. Some exceptions to this rule exist, though. There have been various Supreme Court rulings in which justices have ruled that police can search either a car or home without first procuring a warrant. 

Instances in which police officers can conduct a warrantless search

Police officers can search your car without a warrant (and without violating your rights) under the following situations:

  • When there’s probable cause that something of evidentiary value may be inside the car
  • When they suspect that a weapon or other potentially deadly device is in the vehicle
  • When the car’s owner provides their consent for an officer to make the search
  • When your car has been impounded following your arrest or for some other reason

Police officers cannot, however, initiate a traffic stop as a pretext to search your vehicle, though. They must instead have a valid, clear reason for doing so. Speeding or failure to use your turn signal type of offense generally doesn’t rise to the level of warranting police searching your vehicle. 

Understanding your Fourth Amendment rights may impact the defense strategy you employ in your drug charges case. An attorney can explain what those rights are so you’ll know whether your car’s search was lawful or not.