When can the police search your car without a warrant?

| Jun 21, 2021 | Drug Charges

Did a warrantless search of your car turn up drugs? Are you now facing charges?

If you’re facing drug charges stemming from a traffic stop, then the details regarding your stop matter. In particular, it’s important to ask whether the police actually had the legal authority to search your car in the first place. 

When are a search and seizure lawful?

Generally, the Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures — including during traffic stops. There are some instances, however,  in which police do have the authority to search your vehicle without a warrant. 

If you give the police permission to do so, they can search your vehicle without a warrant. They can also carry out a warrantless search if they have probable cause that there is evidence in your vehicle related to the commission of a crime. Police may also search your vehicle if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that there’s a weapon or something else inside that may harm them. 

Police officers can also generally search your vehicle for evidence related to your arrest, such as drugs or weapons, once they take you into custody.

Is a traffic infraction enough to warrant a search of your vehicle?

Law enforcement officers can generally stop and detain you while you’re driving only when they reasonably believe you’ve violated a traffic law. A minor traffic stop is generally not a valid reason for police to search your vehicle, though. 

If the police take you into custody for “resisting arrest” or driving under the influence (DUI), then it may be lawful for them to search your vehicle. 

Law enforcement officers can generally search your vehicle in its entirety without a warrant once they impound it. This includes any hidden or locked compartments inside the vehicle. This can even happen if they end up towing your vehicle for having too many parking tickets if someone reports it as stolen or it’s left in a fire zone.  

What to do if a search of your vehicle resulted in your arrest

If you are facing criminal charges due to evidence seized from your vehicle, then one of the first steps you’ll want to take in your case is to assess the legality of the search. An experienced legal advocate can help you understand more.