When Can My Car Be Searched By The Police?

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You have been charged with drug possession after your car was searched. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects all citizens from illegal searches and seizures by the police. A violation of this right may establish a defense in your case and you need a lawyer to help you identify any potential violations of your rights. The first thing that I look for in reviewing a case is my client’s initial contact with the police.


  1. Officer’s Right to Stop You

The police have a right to pull you over if you have violated or are believed to be in violation of a traffic law. Speeding, running a red light or having a headlight out are the most common examples, but any violation of a traffic law gives the police a right to lawfully stop you. Suspicion of DUI also establishes a lawful stop. The officer can also stop you if they have reliable information that you have been involved in some type of criminal activity.


  1. Officer is Given Permission to Search

If you give the officer permission to search your car, they have a right to search it. There may be a question as to whether consent to search was truly given. Today, a significant portion of police vehicles have cameras with audio and video equipment that are recording the stop. Police body cameras are also making this less of an issue. Your lawyer should make sure that you are provided any audio or video that may have recorded the incident.


  1. Officer Has Probable Cause to Search

This is the most common and complex situation that we see in vehicle searches. The officer hasn’t been given permission to search, but he believes based on his observations that something illegal is probably going on. Some common examples that establish probable cause:

  1. The officer smells marijuana;
  2. The officer sees drug paraphernalia or signs of drug use in the seats or floor board of the car while standing outside the vehicle (or sees something in the center console or glove compartment when you go to get your registration); and/or
  3. Something you do or say makes the officer suspicious (the officer is required to be specific in what makes them suspicious).

Whether probable cause has been established for the search can only be determined by a thorough examination of the case. It is critical for you to have a lawyer evaluate the police reports and other aspects of the investigation that law enforcement is required to provide to you.


  1. An Arrest is Made

If you are arrested during a vehicle stop, the police may be able to conduct a search of your vehicle. How far they take the search varies depending on the circumstances. Your lawyer will be able to evaluate whether a search incident to your arrest complies with the applicable law in your case. If your car is towed, law enforcement is usually authorized to conduct an “inventory search” which allows them another opportunity to search.

These are basic principles that you should review with your attorney in defending yourself against drug charges that involve a search of your car. Do not try and figure it out on your own. Get the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer that will ensure your rights are protected.

Learn more about drug arrest defense.

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