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When Are Police Allowed to Search Your Vehicle?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, it does not mean you are fully protected from a search if an officer pulls you over in your vehicle. There are some circumstances in which officers can search your vehicle without a warrant, including when the following are present:

  • Consent: Police officers may search your vehicle if they have your consent to do so. You do not have to provide this consent, and it is strongly recommended that you do not. Once you offer your consent, it is extremely hard to challenge the findings of the search. Your best bet is to just say “no” if an officer asks to search your vehicle. If they have to ask, it means officers don’t have any real grounds to make the search.
  • Plain view: If the officer can see evidence of a crime in plain view while you are pulled over, he or she does not need to get a warrant. A drug or drug paraphernalia in wide open view, or a smell of alcohol or marijuana when you roll down the window, is enough to provide probable cause.
  • Probable cause: We already mentioned the term “probable cause,” but what this means is that a police officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or that evidence of a crime will be found upon search of a vehicle. The idea of “probable cause” is subjective. The burden of proof is on the officer to demonstrate probable cause existed at the time of the search.

These are the most common circumstances in which police can search your vehicle without a warrant. For further guidance, contact experienced Reading criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.


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