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Can the Police Search Your Car?

By San Diego Attorney on July 1, 2017

There is great debate about whether or not police are legally allowed to search your car, and if they are, exactly what circumstances warrant it. There are many different answers to the question because it really depends on the individual circumstance, what the officer has seen or smelled, what has transpired before the search, and the information the officer has on an individual or the vehicle at the time. In short, the question cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”

Vehicles Have Less Protection

Although a car is still an individual’s personal property, vehicles are not as protected against searches as a home would be. Within the search warrant requirement, there is an actual automobile exception that gives authorities the permission to search a person’s vehicle if they have reasonable cause to do so. Of course, if an officer presents you with a search warrant to search your car, he certainly has authority and permission to search it.

But “probable cause” is really the crux of whether or not police may search your car when they do not have a warrant. Police cannot search a car simply because they have a feeling or got a hunch that there was something illegal inside it. Being pulled over for a traffic ticket, a broken taillight, or another minor traffic infraction, is also not reason enough for an officer to search your vehicle.

What Is “Probable Cause”?

Probable cause means that the officer must have actual evidence that there is reason to search the car. That evidence could be in the form of smelling alcohol or drugs on the driver or in the car, or seeing illegal contraband in the vehicle. Police may also search the car if they believe it is for their own protection, such as when they believe an individual has a weapon that may be used against them.

What Should I Do If Officers Want to Search My Car?

In most cases, the officer will ask for permission to search the vehicle before he begins to do so. You are not required by law to grant this permission, but when you do not, driver and passengers should exit the car if they have not already done so. It is best to not try and stop officers from searching the car, even if permission has not been granted.

Individuals are advised to simply remain silent, as any protest could be misconstrued as violent or aggressive behavior. This could cause the officer to react by either tasering the individual or worse. If permission has not been granted, individuals should know that any evidence police obtain during the search may be thrown out in court, as it was obtained illegally.

If a police officer has searched your vehicle unlawfully, or you did not grant permission to have your car searched but an officer did so anyway, there is help. Call an illegal search and seizure attorney at JD Law in Vista, California, at (760) 630-2000. We know when searches are lawful and when they are not, and we will fight hard to protect your rights.

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Posted in: Traffic Stops

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A note from James N. Dicks:

Although COVID-19 has caused great uncertainty, we want to assure that our firm is operating remotely to accommodate all current, past, and future clients in need of any of our services. The best way to communicate with us is by telephone (760) 630-2000 or email info@jdlaw.law.

Currently San Diego Superior Courts are closed but are set to reopen on Tuesday May 26th, 2020 barring any
future orders.

Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. Sending our thoughts and best wishes to you and your family. Please follow us on Facebook for any future updates.


Aunque COVID-19 ha causado una gran incertidumbre, queremos asegurarles que nuestra oficina esta operando de forma remota para todos los clientes actuales, pasados y futuros que necesiten alguno de nuestros servicios. La mejor manera de comunicarse con nosotros es por teléfono (760) 630-2000 o por correo electrónico a info@jdlaw.law.

Los Tribunales Superiores de San Diego están cerrados, pero están programados para reabrir el martes 26 de mayo de 2020, salvo una nueva orden.

No dude en contactarnos si tiene alguna pregunta. Estamos enviando nuestros pensamientos y mejores deseos para usted y su familia. Síganos en Facebook para seguir siendo informado de novedades nuevas.


James N. Dicks
jD LAW, P.C.

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COVID-19 Announcement

Although COVID-19 has caused great uncertainty, we want to assure that our firm is operating remotely to accommodate all current, past, and future clients in need of any of our services. The best way to communicate with us is by telephone (760) 630-2000 or email info@jdlaw.law. Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions. Sending our thoughts and best wishes to you and your family.


Aunque COVID-19 ha causado una gran incertidumbre, queremos asegurarles que nuestra oficina esta operando de forma remota para todos los clientes actuales, pasados y futuros que necesiten alguno de nuestros servicios. La mejor manera de comunicarse con nosotros es por teléfono (760) 630-2000 o por correo electrónico a info@jdlaw.law. No dude en contactarnos si tiene alguna pregunta. Estamos enviando nuestros pensamientos y mejores deseos para usted y su familia.

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