When can a police officer search your car?

Many people mistakenly believe that the law does not allow officers to search your car without your consent or without a warrant. This is not true. Unlike your home, the law does not always protect your car from warrantless searches.

The law gives more leeway to police when searching cars because the courts recognize that there is a lower expectation of privacy when it comes to vehicles. Because you drive on public roads and the contents of your car are usually visible from the outside, you have less inherent privacy in your car than in your residence.

Still, your car is not a free-for-all for police. They must still follow federal and state guidelines when it comes to searching your car for evidence.

When can a police officer search my car?

There are six circumstances under which a police officer can search your car without a warrant and seize any evidence s/he finds:

  1. You give the officer consent. (Normally, we would advise against this without first talking to our attorneys about it.)
  2. There is evidence or contraband in “plain view” inside your car, e.g., drug paraphernalia in your cup holder, a gun on the passenger seat. Plain view does not mean places like your glove box.
  3. The officer has probable cause to think there could be evidence in your car.
  4. You have been arrested and the search is related to the arrest, such as an arrest and search for illegal substances, e.g., the officer finds bags of meth in your pocket so s/he searches your car for more drugs or paraphernalia. This is “search incident to arrest.”
  5. The officer has probable cause to think you committed or was involved in a crime, e.g., you have blood all over your shirt, you appear to be under the influence of drugs, the officer can smell marijuana, etc.
  6. The officer thinks you are about to destroy evidence.

Can the police use the evidence they found in my car against me?

If the officer seized evidence when s/he searched your car, the prosecution can use that evidence against you during your proceedings, irrespective of whether the officer had a warrant. That is, so long as the officer was not violating the law.

If you believe law enforcement illegally searched your vehicle, the Goldman Wetzel attorneys can challenge the issue during your hearing. If the judge determines that officers obtained the evidence during an unlawful search and seizure, s/he will nullify any evidence obtained during the search and order that officers cannot use it against you, which could ultimately result in a dismissal of the criminal charge.

Call a criminal defense team in St. Petersburg now about your case.

If you were arrested for a crime in St. Petersburg or if you believe officers searched your car unlawfully, call Goldman Wetzel and speak to our defense lawyers about your case.

We represent defendants of all types of crimes in Florida, including — but not limited to — drug crimes, sex crimes, and violent crimes. Our goal is to provide excellent legal counsel, stand up for your rights, and help you navigate the legal process to arrive at the best possible outcome.

Contact us at 727-828-3900 for a free consultation.