If you get pulled over, the police may decide that they want to search the car. In some cases, they’re looking for evidence that you were driving while under the influence. For example, they may believe that there are legal drugs or open containers of alcohol in the vehicle.
In the heat of the moment, after you’ve been pulled over, you may find yourself wondering if they’re even allowed to search the vehicle. What are some situations when they can do this?
The officer has probable cause
An officer cannot just randomly search your car to see if they find anything illegal. But if they have probable cause and they believe that you’ve committed a crime – and that the evidence is in your car – they may be able to conduct a search. An example would be if you fail a breath test and the officer then has a reason to search the car for an open container.
The officer has a search warrant
This is fairly uncommon in most vehicle searches, as officers are not going to have a search warrant after a traffic stop. But they may be able to get a warrant and search your car at a later date, similar to how they would get a warrant to conduct a search at your home.
You’ve already been arrested
If you haven’t been arrested and there’s no evidence that you committed a crime, the officer typically can’t search your car without your consent. But if you have been arrested, then that gives them a reason to conduct the search if they think that it relates to the initial arrest.
The officer thinks it’s necessary for protection
Finally, officers will sometimes search vehicles if they think it could be dangerous not to do so. For example, if an officer believes you have a gun in the car, they may want to search it just to make sure that they and everyone else stays safe.
Of course, officers make mistakes and conduct illegal searches all the time. If you believe this has happened, make sure that you know what legal options you have.