By:  LINDSEY O’NEILL, ESQ.

Most of us have wondered at one point or another to what extent the police can search your car, whether in the context of being stopped while driving or otherwise.  In fact, you may wonder this whenever you see those lights flashing in your rear view mirror...

A police officer can search your car in a variety of circumstances:

Consent: A law enforcement officer can always search a car if you give them permission to search.   In this case, the officer doesn’t even need to give a reason for wanting to search.

Plain Sight: A law enforcement officer can request that a driver pull to the side of the road if he or she believes that the driver has broken the rules of the road.  If the officer sees anything illegal in the car then the officer can take the evidence and it can be admissible in court.  In most jurisdictions, for instance, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in an automobile. If the officer pulls the driver over for speeding and sees an open beer can then the officer may take the evidence and it may be admissible in court.

Probable Cause: An officer may also search your car if he or she has probable cause to believe that the vehicle has incriminating evidence.  For instance, if an officer sees you buying marijuana, then jumping in your car… the officer could pull you over and search your car without a warrant.

Safety: If the police officer reasonably believes that his or her safety is in jeopardy then the police officer may make a protective search of the car.  For instance, if the officer believes you may have hidden a weapon under your seat or in some other accessible area in your car, then the officer may be able to search your car on the basis that his or her safety was in jeopardy.  Although, the legality of a search on this basis is often highly debated in court.

For more information about whether a police search of your car was lawful, or if you have other questions about a criminal matter, contact a criminal defense attorney in your area today.

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