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When Can Police Search My Car?

Posted By Hines Ranc & Holub || 14-Oct-2015

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 points used:

  • 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 cup holder)
  • 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.

Categories: Criminal Defense