If you have been pulled over by a police officer, you may wonder if they are permitted to search your vehicle without a warrant. Many people believe that an officer has the right to conduct a search simply because they are a police officer and in a position of authority, but the reality is that people’s rights to prevent unnecessary searches are written into the Bill of Rights.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures, which means that an officer is only permitted to conduct a search in certain, specific circumstances.
Explaining Protections Against Searches
The Fourth Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In other words, an officer must possess a warrant in order to conduct a search. If an officer does not have a warrant, performing a search can only be done in very specific situations.
Types Of Searches That Are Permissible Without A Warrant
Just because an officer does not possess a warrant does not mean that he or she is automatically prevented from conducting a search, though a warrant is the simplest and most straightforward way of ensuring that a search is permissible.
Some circumstances allow for searches even if the officer is not in possession of a warrant, and understanding when you are subject to being searched can clarify whether your rights have been violated and whether you have been a victim of unreasonable search and seizure.
One of the simplest situations to understand in terms of police searches is consent. If an officer asks if they may search your vehicle and you say yes, you have given direct consent for the officer to conduct a search. This means that the search is permissible, even if there was otherwise no reason for the officer to do so.
You are not required to consent to an officer’s request to search your vehicle, but if you do, any evidence found during the search may be used against you. Your consent must be given voluntarily; if the officer coerces you into consenting to a search, you may have a case.
In certain situations, such as arrests resulting from a DUI charge, your car may be impounded. As part of the impounding process, officers will take an inventory of the vehicle to ensure that any property in your car is documented so that it can be returned to you later, when you come to claim your vehicle. However, this also means that incriminating evidence may be found in the process, which can later be used against you.
One of the most challenging types of searches to combat is a search based upon probable cause. If an officer has a viable and evidence-based reason to believe that your vehicle contains incriminating evidence that is vital to the situation at hand, he or she may mandate a vehicle search. If you believe that you have been unreasonably searched, a legal professional may be able to argue that sufficient probable cause was not established to justify searching your vehicle.
Incident To Arrest
If a police officer is arresting you during a traffic stop, they are permitted to search your vehicle to look for weapons by justifying that the search is for their own safety, to ensure that weapons are not used.
However, an officer may only conduct this type of search under claim of safety if you are still within reaching distance of your vehicle, where it may be presumed that you could take a weapon out of your vehicle. If you have already been handcuffed and moved away from your car, an officer can no longer use the justification of safety in order to search your vehicle.
Work With The Professional Civil Rights Attorneys
If you believe that you have been a victim of an unreasonable search, it is important that you reach out for legal assistance as soon as possible after the event. A civil rights attorney may be able to attack aspects of the officer’s argument, such as probable cause, to argue that you were searched unreasonably.
The lawyers at The Brown Firm would be happy to help you evaluate your options and determine if you have a case. Reach out to schedule a consultation with a legal professional as soon as you can after your encounter with the officer.