When Can Police Legally Search Your Vehicle?

Do the police have the right to search your vehicle at any time? Learn about your 4th Amendment rights and when it is legal for the police to search your vehicle.

The Fourth Amendment stipulates “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

This amendment is meant to protect citizens from being searched by police or other law enforcement officials without a warrant or probable cause. However, police regularly search vehicles without a warrant. Under which circumstances can police search your vehicle without a warrant? 

The answer is that there are a number of exceptions to the search warrant requirement that you must be aware of anytime you get into your vehicle. An unreasonable search and seizure is a violation of your rights and should not be ignored. If you believe that you were searched illegally in San Diego County, contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein to schedule an appointment with our experienced criminal defense attorney. 

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When Can Police Search Your Vehicle 

In general, police need to have a warrant to search your personal property, including your vehicle. A legal warrant is valid if it is signed by a judge, specifically describes the vehicle to be searched and the items to be searched for and based on probable cause. In addition to having a valid search warrant, police can search your vehicle for any of the following reasons: 

You have given consent to a search. 

Officers can ask you or whoever is operating your vehicle if they can search it. If the driver submits to the search, they have consented and the police do not need to have a valid warrant. It is important to note that the consent must be given freely, and not under duress or pressure from law enforcement. Anything that the police find during this search can be used against you in court. Therefore, it is recommended that you do not consent to a search if you have been pulled over by police. 

The police have probable cause. 

Probable cause means that the police have information that supports the belief that there is illegal items or evidence of a crime in your vehicle. If the police have probable cause, they do not need a warrant to search your car. For example, if you are pulled over for speeding and the police notice the smell of marijuana or alcohol in your vehicle, this gives them probable cause to search your car for other illegal substances. 

You were arrested lawfully. 

If you were placed under arrest lawfully by a police officer, the officer can search your vehicle. However, there are some restrictions on the search. The police are only legally allowed to search the occupant of the vehicle who was placed under arrest. In addition, police can only search the area under the immediate control of the person under arrest. For example, if you were arrested and placed in the back of a police vehicle, and the police search the trunk of your car, this would be an illegal search. Any evidence they find in the trunk cannot be used against you because it was found in an area of the car that was not under your control. 

Your vehicle was impounded after your arrest. 

If your car was impounded after your arrest, the police can legally inventory your car. During the inventory process, any illegal items they find can be used against you and lead to additional criminal charges. 

Have you been charged with a crime in San Diego? Have the police searched or seized items from your vehicle? If so, contact criminal defense attorney Joni Eisenstein to review your case and determine if the police violated your 4th Amendment rights. She is dedicated to protecting your rights and helping you achieve the best possible outcome in your case. 

Call the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein at 760-721-3161 to schedule your free consultation. 

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