Under the Fourth Amendment, unlawful search and seizure is illegal. Police are required
to have probable cause to conduct a search without first obtaining a warrant. However, there is something known as the “automobile exception” that helps police get into your car without a warrant. This exception states that individuals have less expectation of privacy while driving, as compared to inside their homes. Legislators allow this exception in the interest of public safety against offenses like DWI.
But what about your trunk? It makes sense that police would be able to search your car if they saw a joint inside, but are police able to unlock your trunk and search it without a warrant?
The answer: Yes. Sometimes.
Probable Cause and Searching Trunks
The first situation wherein a police officer can search your trunk is if you consent to a search. You’d be surprised how often people do not understand their rights. Many don’t realize that just because a police officer asks if he or she can do something, you must say yes. If you refuse to consent, though, the officer will try to get into your trunk by finding probable cause that you have done something illegal.
For example, say a police officer notices the smell of marijuana wafting from inside your trunk; that would give the officer probable cause to search it without a warrant. In fact, because marijuana is illegal in Texas, the smell of marijuana anywhere in your vehicle or on your person would likely be enough for that officer to have probable cause. If you are arrested for personal drug possession, the officer’s search of your vehicle is related to that drug possession arrest, giving the officer probable cause to search the rest of the vehicle for more drugs.
The Goolsby Law Firm can assist you in defense against criminal charges in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.