Answer – It Depends... I know that’s not what you want to hear. But, there are several circumstances when the Police are permitted to search your vehicle without a warrant. For clarity, here is a quick list.
- You consent to the search.
- The Police Officer believes the search is necessary for their own protection. (e.g., possession of weapons).
- You have been arrested and the search is directly related to that arrest. (e.g., possession of drugs).
- Upon impounding your vehicle the Police conduct a routine Inventory Search.
With exception to the inventory search, the police generally cannot search your vehicle without consent unless they have probable cause to believe a crime is being committed. Obviously, an admission by the defendant or the presence of illegal drugs and weapons in plain view is enough to substantiate probable cause. Other common examples of probable cause include the odor of marijuana in your car, an open container of alcohol in plain view or if your vehicle matches the description of a car recently used in criminal activity.
Thus, a search of your vehicle can occur during an emergency situation, if illegal drugs or weapons are in plain view or if the vehicle is impounded.
While the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution gives all Americans the right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, homes and property. There also exists the “automobile exception” where the Courts have held that a person has a lower expectation of privacy in their automobile due to the regulations by which they operate to ensure the public safety. This exception permits a Police Officer to search your vehicle without a search warrant as long as s/he has probable cause to believe that evidence or contraband is located in the vehicle.
If a Police Officer asks permission to search your vehicle it is perfectly acceptable to decline the request or to simply remain silent. At that point, without a warrant or probable cause, the Police cannot legally search your vehicle. If the Police search the vehicle without your consent, without probable cause or a warrant then any of the illegally obtained evidence cannot be used in a case against you.
If you have been arrested or are under investigation for criminal activity you need legal representation immediately to protect your rights and discuss your options. Call my office today to schedule a free confidential no obligation consultation. (845) 867-2812.