Hines Ranc & Holub often gets clients who question whether or not police
had the right to search their vehicle at a traffic or speeding stop. This
is a very controversial issue that often raises eyebrows and frustrates
defendants. So when do police have the right to search your car and seize
any evidence they find? Under the law, a warrant is almost always required
to search a person’s property.
That being said, there are certain exceptions for police officers when
it comes to automobiles. This can make search and seizure incidents involving
vehicles very confusing.
Why are the laws slightly different for vehicles? There are commonly two
- They are mobile and could be gone before an officer gets a warrant; and
- They are on public roads, so drivers should expect less privacy.
While both debatable, this is the rationale law enforcement uses to search
your car without a warrant. Before you start to sweat, keep in mind that
they still have to have a valid reason to do so.
When a Warrant Isn’t Required
There are cases where a judge-approved warrant can be required to search
a vehicle, especially if the officer’s don’t technically have
any reason to stop an individual. However, in most cases, they will use
what is known as
the probable cause exception to get into a suspect’s car.
Some reasons police can search your vehicle without a warrant:
- They smell marijuana coming from your car
- You specifically gave the officer consent to do so
- They can clearly see evidence in your vehicle (such as beer cans in your
- The officer’s search is related to an offense you’ve been arrested for
- Any other matter that gives them probable cause
This means even if you have only been pulled over for speeding, an officer
can search your vehicle if they believe you may be hiding illegal
drugs due to your behavior or mental state. Again, this can be highly debatable,
which is why retaining a lawyer and telling them the details of your case
is so crucial.
You Have the Right to Refuse a Search
If the officer requests your permission to search your vehicle or person,
it means that they likely do not have any probable cause to do so and
are trying to get your consent. Without your consent or a valid reason,
they don’t have any right do so. This means you can exercise your
right to refuse the search.
If you want to take this approach, it is advisable that you remain calm,
polite, and respectful with your denial. The more suspicious you act or
the more excuses you give, the more “probable cause” the officer
may start to build. Keep in mind, a police officer may try to intimidate
you into consenting to the search, but unless they truly have probable
cause, you have every right to refuse.
If you or a loved one have been unlawfully detained and had your vehicle
searched without probable cause or consent, you need to get help.
Call our Austin criminal attorneys now.