Under The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, police are prohibited from unreasonable search or seizure of your property. Police are also prohibited from stopping and searching your vehicle without a legal basis.
Evidence From an Illegal Search May Not Be Admissible
The police will have to show a legitimate legal reason for stopping you, and that they followed strict protocols at every step in the arrest process. If your vehicle was illegally searched, the evidence gathered may be inadmissible.
In general, police will need one of the following to search your vehicle:
- A warrant. A valid warrant gives police officers the right to search your car, home, person, or other property listed on the warrant. If the police did not obtain a warrant, or the warrant was defective, the search may be considered illegal.
- Probable cause. Police may search a vehicle without a warrant of the have a good reason to suspect that there is incriminating evidence inside. However, there must be some basis for the search, such as seeing a weapon or smelling marijuana in your vehicle.
- Your consent. Officers are allowed to search your car if you give them permission, but this permission must be freely given. If police bully, intimidate, or coerce you into giving consent, the search may not be legal.
- To ensure safety after an arrest. If you’re arrested for DUI, police are permitted to do a limited search of your vehicle to ensure officer safety, such as making sure there are no weapons in the vehicle. However, this justification is only valid if you are within reaching distance of your vehicle when police conduct the search. For example, if you have already been handcuffed and placed in the police car, there is no reasonable threat to officers.
- To impound your vehicle. If you are arrested, the police may impound your vehicle. When this happens, police officers are required to inventory the content of your vehicle to make sure any items in the car are returned to you when the vehicle is released. However, prosecutors are allowed to use any incriminating evidence officers find during an inventory search as part of the charges against you.
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