Can the police search my car after they pull me over?

The Constitution grants us essential rights that protect us from unreasonable searches and police overreach and abuse. However, it’s essential for you to know what your rights are, so that you can recognize when they are being violated. Under what circumstances is a police search of your car a violation of your rights, and when is it legally permissible?

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment provides you with protection against arbitrary searches by the police. In other words, it would be a violation of your rights for the police to randomly stop you and search your person, your home or your vehicle for no reason.

If the police have a court-issued search warrant, they can search your car. For the police to be able to legally conduct a search of your vehicle without a valid search warrant, however, they must have probable cause or your consent.  You do not have to consent to a search requested by a law enforcement officer.  If officers do not have probable cause or your consent, then they should not be searching your car.

The probable cause requirement

Probable cause essentially means that the police officer has a reasonable belief that an offense has been or is being committed based on objective facts that the officer actually observed and must believe that a search will uncover evidence of a crime.

For example, a police officer does not have legitimate probable cause if he merely has a hunch that you may have done something wrong. However, if he notices that you have puffy eyes and he smells marijuana, then he may have the probable cause necessary to search your car for drugs.

A Fourth Amendment violation is serious and could mean the difference between a conviction and successfully defeating the charges against you. If you believe that a police officer improperly searched your car, your attorney might be able to get any evidence that was found suppressed in your criminal case which could lead to a reduction or dismissal of the charges against you.

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