What are Your Rights in Your Car? When Can Police Search Your Vehicle?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. Because of this, a police officer needs a specific reason to pull your vehicle over. Police officers can’t just stop you just because they want to see what you are up to. They need a reason to stop you, generally a traffic violation. Speeding, broken taillight, changing lanes without signaling, blowing through a stop sign, are all common reasons to pull someone over. Typically, if a police officer suspects someone of DWI, the officer will follow until they observe a traffic violation. If a police officer does not have a specific reason that he can point to, it amounts to an unconstitutional seizure.

Is a Warrant Required?

Police generally need a warrant to conduct a search. There are exceptions to the warrant requirement. Once you get pulled over, there are several ways for police to search your vehicle without a warrant. The Supreme Court has determined that your rights in your car are not as strong as they are in your home.

When Can Police Search Your Vehicle?

You do have some rights. If police pull you over for speeding, they cannot arbitrarily search your vehicle. They need more reason. For one thing, there is no way to find evidence of speeding in your car. Police can generally search your car in these circumstances:

  • Consent—if you let them search, you are waiving your Fourth Amendment rights
  • Probable Cause—if a police officer has probable cause that there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle. This is common in drug crimes
  • Protective Sweep—if a police officer has the reasonable belief that you have a weapon, she can search the passenger compartment
  • Arrest—if you have been arrested, a police can search your passenger compartment for a weapon or evidence of a crime. This is called search incident to arrest

Have you been arrested and charged with a crime? Was your car searched? Call my office: (817) 689-7002.  Come into the office for a free and confidential case evaluation. Our office is downtown: 108 Main Street, Fort Worth, TX,76102