Can the police search your car anytime they want?

If you get pulled over by the police it’s always best to cooperate with the officer, but can they just search your car for no reason?

You have rights, and under the Fourth Amendment you are protected against unlawful search and seizure. What this means is that arbitrary car searches by police are illegal. The police must have a valid reason for searching your car without your permission and doing so is a violation of your constitutional rights.

Typically, and officer must have reason to believe a crime has been committed before searching your car and that includes suspicion of driving or driving under the influence. In addition, the law does provide the police a bit of leeway when they feel that they need to search a vehicle. Under the Fourth Amendment courts generally give police a freer hand when searching a vehicle rather than a home. There is a thing called the “automobile exception” that allows police to search a vehicle without a search warrant. Courts have recognized that individuals have a lower expectation of privacy when driving a car than when they’re in their home.

So, including the suspicion of a crime being committed, these are the circumstances under which the police can search your car.

  • You have given the officer consent
  • The officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle
  • The officer reasonably believes their own safety requires the vehicle be searched
  • The officer has a valid search warrant
  • You have been arrested and the search is related to the arrest

You have the right to refuse permission to search your car. Remaining silent is also is also interpreted as non-consent. Just remember the consent rules only apply if the officer doesn’t have a warrant or probable cause. If the officer sees evidence that leads him to believe you are drunk or under the influence of narcotics, that’s probable cause.