Generally speaking, police are not allowed to conduct a search of your property without getting a warrant. Cars can be somewhat of an exception to this rule, however. This is because cars are mobile and the process of obtaining a warrant may take longer than an officer is able to detain a suspect. Some also say that because cars are typically out on public streets, drivers and passengers have a reduced expectation of privacy.
So, when are police allowed to search your car?
- If the officer has probable cause that you have committed a crime and a judge approves a warrant, the officer can search your vehicle.
- If the officer believes that he or she has probable cause that the car contains evidence of illegal activity, the officer can conduct a warrantless search of your vehicle. Even something as little as a piece of ash or the smell of marijuana can constitute probable cause.
- If a person has been arrested, is unsecured and within reach of the passenger compartment, the officer can conduct a warrantless search
- If an officer conducts an arrest and believes that the car could contain evidence related to the arrest, the officer can conduct a search
- If an officer believes that the car contains a weapon and that the driver might attempt to access the weapon, the officer can conduct a search
- If a person says yes to a search, the officer can conduct a search. Note that you are not legally required to consent, and you cannot be intimidated or harassed into consenting.
- If your car has been legally impounded, it can be searched.