It can be nerve-wracking anytime you’re pulled over by the police. Your stress levels may sky-rocket if they ask to search your vehicle. You might feel cornered and have no choice but to give the police your permission. However, it’s important to remember that you have rights.
Law enforcement may not search your vehicle just because they feel like it. In fact, any evidence found as the result of an illegal search will be inadmissible. That said, there are situations where the police can perform a search of your vehicle, including in the following situations:
- The police have a search warrant: The Fourth Amendment requires police to obtain a warrant before beginning a search. However, the warrant requirement is not absolute. Numerous exceptions to the rule exist. However, you are certainly within your rights to request a warrant before you consent to a search.
- You agree to a search: If you give the police your consent, they will search your car. However, you are not required to give permission when asked. You can demand that the police get a warrant before they search your vehicle.
- The police have probable cause to suspect criminal activity: If there is evidence of illegal activity in plain sight, the police may search your vehicle. For example, a marijuana pipe left on the passenger seat or a bag of suspected drugs on the back floor can provide the police with enough probable cause to execute a search.
- There is a threat to public safety: If an officer believes that there is a threat to their safety or the safety of the public, they can search your vehicle. For example, a search may be performed if there is a suspicion that you are in possession of a weapon.
- Arrest-related searches: For example, if you are picked up on a warrant for suspected drug trafficking, the police may search through your vehicle for evidence of the drugs.
- Your vehicle has been taken to impound: Searches of impounded vehicles are allowed under the law. The search can be as superficial or as thorough as law enforcement deems necessary. The search does not have to be related to the reason for your initial stop.
It may seem like the police can come up with any reason to search your vehicle. However, you still have rights. A skilled legal professional can help you with your criminal defense options.