Times are tough right now due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but we here at SQ Attorneys are here to answer all of you criminal law questions, in case you get pulled over. One of the more important questions clients have asked us is whether the police can legally search your car if they have probable cause? The answer is yes. Police can legally search your car if they have probable cause.
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. Nevertheless, there are some limited situations in which police can search a car without a warrant or your consent.
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.
It’s also understood that while the U.S. Constitution sets the minimum level of protection for an individual’s rights, states are free to provide even more protections to an individual’s privacy rights. They could therefore pass laws placing greater restrictions on police when it comes to searching vehicles without a warrant.
Not every police search must be made under a lawfully executed warrant. The Supreme Court has ruled that warrantless police conduct may comply with the Fourth Amendment, so long as it’s reasonable under the circumstances.
So, when can police search your car without a warrant? Generally, under the following circumstances: 1) You have given the officer consent; 2) The officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle; 3) The officer reasonably believes a search is necessary for their own protection (a hidden weapon, for example); and 4) You have been arrested and the search is related to that arrest
Automobiles may be stopped if an officer possesses a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the motorist has violated a traffic law. If the reason for the stop is a minor traffic offense like speeding, the officer likely wouldn’t be permitted to search your car without more reason. However, if police arrest you for conduct arising out of a traffic stop, a search of your vehicle incident to arrest will usually be allowed.
If the police have towed and impounded your car, they have the authority to search your vehicle. This inventory search can be as comprehensive as the police wish, and will most likely include opening any locked compartments or boxes found within your car. The reason why your car was towed and impounded doesn’t matter. It could be for something as simple as a parking violation or as serious as a car theft.
If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.