When Can the Cops Search My Car?

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The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects your right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. That means the cops can’t search your body, your house, your purse, your man-bag, or your vehicle unless they have “probable cause,” or in some cases, “reasonable suspicion” (reasonable suspicion is something less than probable cause).

Every situation is a little bit different –  a search of your home is more invasive than the search of your vehicle because you walk around naked in your home.

Hopefully you don’t walk around naked in your car.

The point is that the 4th Amendment protects your “reasonable expectation of privacy,” which is going to be less in a car than in your home because a car has windows on all sides and you drive it around in public.

But you still have SOME expectation of privacy in your car, and the cops can’t search it on a whim. There are a ton of ways the police get around your 4th Amendment right, but I’ll just discuss a couple of ways in this post.

Lawful Arrest

The main way your car will be subject to a search by the police is if you are arrested. If you are arrested, law enforcement can search your entire vehicle, including the trunk. Now, remember you have to be lawfully arrested, which means if the officer didn’t have probable cause to arrest you in the first place, then any evidence brought against you as a result of a search or seizure can be suppressed. So if you don’t want your car searched, try to not get arrested.

Plain View

If your drugs, or your gun, or a shitload of money piled on the backseat is in plain view of the officer as he speaks to you through your window, then you are screwed. There’s not an invisible wall of 4th Amendment protection that prevents the officer from being able to use the incriminating evidence lying around your vehicle in plain view of the officer. Essentially, if the officer can SEE something that looks incriminating, he is allowed to investigate it further. Whatever the officer sees, however, is only considered part of the “plain view” exception if the officer had a lawful reason to be standing where he was standing in the first place.

He can’t just pop your truck, peer in, then say, “I’ll be damned! You have drugs and guns in your trunk! Guess they were in plain view, so I’m arresting you now.”

As I mentioned, there are other exceptions, but the two above are the main ways your car will be subject to a search by the cops. If you would like help with your criminal case, you can call me at 310-200-4519,email me at paul.socaldefense@gmail.com, or contact me through my website.


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