Can the Police Search My Car?
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures made by the government. The Fourth Amendment applies only to governmental actors and not private individuals. A search commences when police officers enter a premises in which the owner has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a home. A search becomes unreasonable when the police do not have proper authority to carry out their investigation. Some examples of proper authority include a search warrant or the owner’s consent. A Houston criminal defense lawyer from the Madrid Law firm can explain more examples of “proper authority”.
Because automobiles can be readily moved, and people generally do not live in their cars, personal vehicles do not have the same protections from police searches as homes. In order to search a car, police may gain consent to search or cite probable cause. If either of these are present, a search warrant is not needed to search a car.
Consent to Search
A person may grant the police consent to search a car. A person’s consent must be granted freely and voluntarily. This means that the police cannot pressure a person to agree to a search. Although law enforcement officers cannot force an individual to consent, they do not have to inform a person of his right to refuse.
When a person grants consent, he may end the search at any time. He can also limit the search. For example, a person can allow the police to search everywhere except the trunk and the glove compartment. Furthermore, if law enforcement begin to search the car, a person has the right to stop the search even if the police are not finished.
Probable Cause to Search
In addition to consent, the police may search a vehicle if they have probable cause to do so. Probable cause can be formulated through questioning or by observation. Any of the following items can contribute to probable cause:
- A person admits that there is contraband in his car.
- An officer detects the smell of marijuana.
- A drug dog indicates that he smells narcotics.
- The officer sees contraband in the vehicle.
If any of the above conditions exist, police officers have grounds to search the car. They do not need to request a search warrant or ask for consent if they have probable cause.