People often ask me, “Can the police search my car?” They’re usually wondering about searches made during traffic stops.
A warrant is usually required to search your property. However, there are exceptions for cars. The main reason for the exception is that vehicles are not stationary. The owners will move them before an officer can get a search warrant from a judge. Another reason is that since cars drive on public roads, drivers have a reduced expectation of privacy compared to their residences.
The general rule is that when police search a person, they need a warrant based signed by a judge. But there are exceptions to the general rule.
Exception for Probable Cause
Police may search a car if they have probable cause to believe it contains evidence of criminal activity. For example, suppose a vehicle’s interior smells like marijuana. In that case, the police may search the car, including the trunk or containers, where they may find illegal items like drugs.
Search Following an Arrest
After the police arrest someone who is unsecured and within reach of the passenger compartment, they may search the vehicle. The police may also search the car if it is reasonable to believe they may find additional evidence.
An officer may search a vehicle if he reasonably believes someone is dangerous and might have weapons in the car.
The police can search a car if its owner voluntarily consents. The officer cannot intimidate or harass the person into agreeing to the search.
After the Police Impound Your Car
Police officers may search a car that they lawfully impound. The police must search according to a standardized policy. This exception is known as an inventory search.
Because an Officer Wants To?
Unfortunately, an officer may illegally search your car. They may lie to justify the search with one of the abovementioned exceptions. A good lawyer can help you protect yourself from an illegal search and keep illegally obtained evidence out of court.
Contact me for a free case review if you are charged with a crime in Comal County or other Central Texas counties such as Hays County, Guadalupe County, Travis County, or Bexar County.