When Can Police Legally Search A Car

Many drivers on the road today believe that if they get pulled over by a police officer that they have no choice but to consent to a search of their vehicle. However, you don’t have to consent to a search, and you will be giving up your rights by doing so. Despite this, there are certain situations when a police officer can legally search your car.


Most don’t realize this, but if you are asked by a police officer to consent to a vehicle search you don’t have to say yes. After all, if the officer automatically had the right to search any vehicle he wanted then he wouldn’t even bother asking for your permission. Saying no means it would be illegal for the officer to search your vehicle, and any evidence found as a result of the search cannot be used against you in a court of law. That is unless:

–The officer sees something in plain view.

–You are arrested.

–The officer has probable cause to search.

–Other exigent circumstances exist.

Contraband In Plain View

If you have anything illegal or anything that looks suspicious within the plain view of a police officer, he has every right to seize the property. Depending on what that property is, this could lead to your arrest and of course a legal search of the rest of your vehicle.

During An Arrest

Those who are pulled over, arrested and placed into the custody of the police no longer have the right to refuse a vehicle search regardless of the original charges. Any contraband that is found in the vehicle after your arrest and while you are in custody will result in additional criminal charges against you.

Probable Cause

If you are pulled over by an officer of the law and he has a valid reason to believe that you may be in possession of contraband, he can legally search you car. This commonly happens to drivers who have smells of drugs or alcohol emanating from the vehicle as the officer walks up. And remember, it’s much easier for the officer to prove probable cause in a court of a law than it is for you to disprove it.

Exigent Circumstances

This is kind of a gray area when it comes to police searches and seizures. Exigent circumstances state that it is legal for an officer of the law to search your vehicle if that officer believes he is acting to prevent an emergency or destruction of evidence. Much like probable cause, this is an extremely tough defense to disprove.