Temple Vehicle Search Attorney
Can the Police Search My Car Without a Warrant?
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights, is one of the most important rights we have as individuals against unfair treatment and harassment by the government. It says,
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That was in 1791, long before there were motor vehicles. Over the years, the Supreme Court has carved out many exceptions to the warrant requirement, and the “automobile exception” is one that has been around for nearly 100 years now. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have rights when the police want to search your vehicle. They still must have probable cause, or some other exception must apply.
At its core, the 4th Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. Police must have lawful grounds to begin a search, and they can’t extend the scope of their search beyond those lawful grounds. If the police search your vehicle and turn up evidence the state intends to use against you in court, your criminal defense attorney will want to take a hard look at the circumstances surrounding the search and seizure to determine whether the police actions were lawful. Any evidence in violation of the constitution cannot be used in court, and often getting such evidence suppressed is as good as getting the case dismissed.
If they violate your rights by conducting an unlawful search or seizure, we’ll fight to have that evidence kept out of court and try to convince the prosecution to drop its case against you. For help after an arrest for DWI, possession of marijuana, or other misdemeanor or felony offenses in Bell County or Central Texas, call The Law Office of Katie L. Gomez, PLLC in Temple for practical advice and zealous representation in your criminal case.
The Automobile Exception
It is because of a motor vehicle’s mobility that the U.S. Supreme Court declared an exception to the warrant requirement for vehicle searches. Later court decisions added other reasons why a warrant isn’t required: you have a lesser expectation of privacy in your car compared to your home; it (hopefully) isn’t your residence or the place where you keep your stuff, and you are in plain view of everybody as you travel down the road.
That doesn’t mean the cops can search your car at any time for any reason. The following requirements apply to a warrantless search of a motor vehicle under the automobile exception:
- The police must have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband, such as an open container, drugs, illegal weapons or evidence of a crime.
- The vehicle must be moving before the police pull you over. Police can’t search a parked car in a driveway without a warrant just because it is potentially mobile.
- The search has to be done at the same time as the traffic stop. The police can’t take it in later and search it without a warrant.
Another fact that is often overlooked is that the police also need probable cause or at least a “reasonable articulable suspicion” to stop the car in the first place. They can’t just pull people over at random and then conduct a search. They have to believe you have committed a traffic or safety violation or are involved in some other criminal activity before they can stop you. Then they can do a search if they have probable cause.
Besides the automobile exception, there are many other ways the police can lawfully search you or your vehicle during a traffic stop without a warrant. There are the following exceptions, for example:
The safety exception – Once you’ve been stopped, you can be patted down for weapons to ensure the officer’s safety. This can include a search of the immediate area within your reach that could have a weapon.
Plain view – Police can lawfully seize any contraband that is in plain view when they approach your vehicle.
Incident to arrest – If the police place you under arrest, they can search you and the area in your immediate control for their safety and to preserve evidence.
Inventory search – If your car gets impounded, the police can (and will) conduct an inventory search of the vehicle at the impound lot. This may sound like it is being done for the safety of your property, but it’s a great way for the police to search your car without a warrant. If they impound your vehicle just to do a warrantless search, that’s unreasonable and unconstitutional, and we’ll fight them in court on it.
CONSENT – The police don’t need a warrant or any other justification to conduct a search if you give them your consent. If the police ask you for your permission to search your car, you can say no.
Help With Vehicle Searches & DWI Arrests in Temple, Texas
At The Law Office of Katie L. Gomez, PLLC, we zealously guard your constitutional rights, including protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. We fight to get you the best result whenever you are arrested and charged with a criminal offense. For help fighting a DWI, drug possession, theft, or other misdemeanor or felony charges in Temple, Bell County or Central Texas, call The Law Office of Katie L. Gomez, PLLC, at 254-330-3214 for a free consultation.