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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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