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3 times police officers can lawfully search someone’s vehicle

On Behalf of | Oct 11, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

When dealing with police officers, individuals generally need to know their rights. Police officers usually know they can’t overtly violate someone’s rights, but they may try to trick someone into giving up their rights.

It is very easy to make mistakes when one feels anxious or stressed, which is a common response to a traffic stop or a crash. Police officers may want to search someone’s vehicle to determine whether a crime occurred. Those who know their rights will have an easier time handling what could be a very challenging situation. There are rules that limit police searches of vehicles. Generally, they can only search someone’s vehicle (lawfully) under the following circumstances.

When they have probable cause

Sometimes, there is something obviously wrong in a situation that leads a police officer to suspect criminal activity. Perhaps they smell drugs or can see paraphernalia in the backseat. Open containers of alcohol or weapons might also give an officer the probable cause that they need to search a vehicle during a roadside encounter. Probable cause means having an articulable suspicion of a specific criminal infraction, not just a general belief that someone may have broken the law.

When they have a warrant

In situations in which a vehicle likely contains evidence of criminal activity or played a role in a crime, officers can obtain a search warrant. A warrant may even allow them to take the vehicle into state custody for forensic testing. Those subject to a search because of a warrant will want to verify that the warrant is accurate and actually signed by a judge, as mistakes with the warrant could render it invalid.

When they get permission

Quite a few vehicle searches occur because drivers don’t make use of their rights. They want to cooperate with the police because they think that is the best approach. They agree to allow officers to search their vehicles. What they don’t realize is that officers might find something left behind by a passenger or prior owner that could drastically alter their legal circumstances.

Knowing that one has the right to say no to a vehicle search could make all the difference for someone dealing with the police during a traffic stop or after a crash.

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