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When Can Police Search a Vehicle?

When you get pulled over by a police officer, it’s important that you know your rights so you can protect yourself from potential abuse. Part of this means knowing when officers can and cannot perform a search of your vehicle.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grant you protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. As such, there are limited situations in which an officer may conduct a search of your vehicle without a warrant.

Evidence in plain view

If an officer pulls you over for any issue and can clearly see evidence of a crime in your vehicle (such as open intoxicants, a bag of marijuana or the smell of alcohol or drugs on your breath or in your vehicle), the officer may conduct a search of the vehicle. This is true even if you were pulled over for a completely unrelated reason, such as a license plate registration that’s expired or a broken taillight.

Your consent

If police officers do not have any legal basis to search your car, they may ask for your permission to do so. You do not have to provide this consent. After all, if officers had any grounds to search your vehicle, they would do so without your consent. As a general rule, avoid giving consent to a vehicle search if possible.

For more information on the various circumstances in which a police officer may search your vehicle during a traffic stop, meet with experienced Reading criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.




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