The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful search and seizure generally prohibits arbitrary vehicle searches by police. If the police search your car without a warrant, your permission, or a valid reason, they are violating your constitutional rights, as protected by the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. There are, however, some limited situations in which police can search a car without a warrant or your consent.
During a traffic stop, police only need probable cause to legally search your vehicle. Probable cause means police must have some facts or evidence to believe you’re involved in criminal activity. Probable cause is the legal standard by which a police officer has the right to make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search, or obtain a warrant for arrest. While many factors contribute to a police officer’s level of authority in a given situation, probable cause requires facts or evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a suspect has committed a crime. Probable cause must be more than a mere hunch or belief. Common examples of probable cause include an officer seeing something in plain view and an odor of alcohol or drugs.
When it comes to vehicle searches, courts generally give police more leeway compared to when police are attempting to search a residence. This is because, under the “automobile exception” to the search warrant requirement, courts have recognized that individuals have a lower expectation of privacy when driving a car than when they’re in their homes.
When can police search your car? Generally, only under the following circumstances:
- You have given the officer consent;
- The officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle;
- The officer reasonably believes a search is necessary for their own protection (a hidden weapon, for example);
- You have been arrested and the search is related to that arrest (such as a search for illegal drugs); or
- The officer applies for an obtains a warrant to search your car.
If you have been pulled over and arrested after a search of your vehicle, it is always worth exploring whether the officer had a valid, legal reason to pull you over and whether the officer actually had probable cause to search your car. If not, it doesn’t matter what he found, it’s not coming into evidence and it cannot be used against you. Both of those are legal questions for a lawyer and judge, not a cop, and cops in the field frequently make mistakes.
If you have been pulled over and arrested in Galveston County, contact an experienced Galveston County criminal defense lawyer to fight your case. We can often beat or minimize the damages of an arrest, and fight for you in court. The experienced Galveston County criminal defense lawyers at Zendeh Del & Associates, PLLC will be on your side and looking out for your best interests.
Don’t wait, call today. Calls are answered 24/7 @ (409) 204-5566.