The 4th amendment of the Constitution clearly prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” But, unless you are a lawyer, it’s not exactly clear what that means. Which searches are “reasonable” and which ones are not? If you’re stopped driving, can police search your car without a warrant?
The short answer to this question is yes, police officers are allowed to search your car without a warrant in some circumstances, despite what the 4th amendment says. Here are some things to be aware of about your rights if the police search your car without a warrant.
Probable cause is enough reason to search your car
If a police officer has probable cause to believe you have committed a crime, your car can be searched without a warrant. The key reasoning behind this is that cars can move around quickly and easily. They are mobile, and therefore can easily be used as a means of transportation for illegal items and activities. Police officers need the ability to search cars without a warrant when there is probable cause of criminal activity in order to effectively and safely monitor traffic.
What is probable cause?
Probable cause means there are some facts present to make the officer suspect that you may be involved with criminal activity. It can be something minor, like a funny smell coming from the car, if the officer suspects you are in possession of drugs or alcohol. However, probable cause cannot be established merely from a traffic violation. If you’re pulled over for running a red light, the officer cannot search your car unless there is other evidence of criminal activity.
What to do if you were arrested after police searched your car
It is often a good idea to talk to a criminal defense lawyer if police arrested you after searching your car. If you believe your car was searched improperly, a lawyer may be able to help get your case dismissed.
The court will look to the actions of the officer to determine if what he did in the search was illegal. Talk to your lawyer about it and give him all the facts. And be honest about your side of the story. There’s no use in lying to your lawyer because he already has the police report and is looking at the facts that the officer has put on the table.
Also, keep in mind the perspective of the prosecutor and the judge when looking at the situation. Their position is that police officers need to be protected from dangerous situations, so they will consider even very small amounts of evidence to be enough for probable cause.
Obviously, every fact is important. Go over everything with your lawyer and recreate a timeline of events to the best of your ability. The lawyer can help advise you about possible reasons for why the police officer’s search was unreasonable.
Next time you get pulled over and are wondering can police search your car without a warrant, just remember that police can find justification to search your car for many reasons. They do not need a warrant. All that is needed is probable cause, which can come from very minor evidence of criminal activity.
And if you have recently been pulled over and searched without a warrant and the officer arrested you, find a criminal defense lawyer and discuss all the details of the traffic stop to find out whether your car was searched unreasonably.