Paul D. Cramm

Are Police Required To Have Probable Cause To Search My Vehicle?

The Fourth Amendment protects us from searches and seizures. This constitutional right protects you from the police department searching your car without a warrant, or your consent. If a cop does so without your consent, he or she is violating your constitutional right. However, there are a few situations where a police officer can search your vehicle without your consent or a warrant. That brings up another question: What is Reasonable Suspicion to Search a Vehicle?

Car searches are generally given more leeway than a search that would be conducted on a home. This is because of the automobile exception to search warrant requirements. Courts have stated that people have a lower expectation of privacy when it comes to their vehicles.

The fourth amendment only gives a minimum level of protection. Each individual state, like Arizona, is able to provide more protection for privacy. States can pass laws placing stricter restrictions from police going through your vehicle with your consent or a warrant.

When Can Police Search Your Car?

The Supreme Court has ruled that warrantless police conduct may comply with the fourth amendment as long as it is warranted. Here are some of the circumstances, you may find when it comes to getting pulled over in Arizona.

  • The police officer has asked your permission to search your vehicle and you have given consent. Be careful about giving consent. A cop can make it seem like an innocent thing. He or she may say something along the lines of that they do not want to be against you and want to help you. They will ask you if you mind if they check your vehicle out. Do not give consent. This tactic might be used by law enforcement if they suspect the possession of drugs or transportation of drugs.
  • Probable cause. A police officer can search your vehicle if he or she has probable cause and believes there is evidence in your car.
  • If a police officer believes that you have a hidden weapon, they can search your car without a warrant and without your consent.
  • If you have been arrested, the Arizona police officer can go through your car to search for illegal drugs, weapons or any other evidence. This can be done as soon as you are arrested.

Vehicles can only be stopped if the police officer thinks that there is a suspicion of violating the traffic laws. If you are pulled over for a minor traffic violation, the officer would not be able to search your car. If you are arrested due to the traffic stop, the police officer would then have the right to search your vehicle for any incriminating evidence.

Impounded Cars vs. Traffic Stop Warrant Searches

If a police officer decides to impound your vehicle, they will have the right to search your vehicle whenever they like. They can do an extremely comprehensive search. This includes anything that you may have in your car, including boxes, bags, and other items. It does not matter why your car was impounded. It could be that you had a simple parking violation, or you have stolen the car. The police cannot tow your car just for a search. They do have to follow a strict procedure to ensure that when they have your car towed, it was done so illegally. If they fail to follow these procedures, they will be in trouble, and your Arizona lawyer will have no trouble helping you in getting your case dismissed.

How to Avoid A Vehicle Search?

If you have been pulled over in Arizona, there are several things that you can do to avoid having your car searched. You will want to do all that you can to ensure that you are not detained for longer than you have to be. The longer you are there with the police officer, the bigger chance that you have of getting searched. Here are some tips to avoid trouble with the police department.

  • Do not give your consent. If you give consent for the car search to begin, you are giving the cop access to your vehicle. He or she may find some incriminating evidence that would lead to you being arrested. Be careful with the police officer. They will try to act nonchalant about searching your vehicle to get you to agree. Many people think that it is easier just to agree to allow the police officers to search your vehicle. You may think that they will not find anything, or you think that you will get off easier. That is never going to happen. Just say no when they ask you if you have anything in the vehicle you should not.
    Staying silent. The less you open your mouth, the better. You have heard the old saying, whatever you say will be used against you. That will happen if you are not careful. It is best to always keep quiet and answer only the basic questions during a traffic stop. Never volunteer any information.
  • Asking to leave. Make sure that you ask the police officer if you can leave. Once you have the ticket or the police officer has asked you questions, you will want to see if you can get out of there. The longer you stay, the bigger chance that the cop will find something to hold you with.
  • Remind the cop of your rights. If the cop is insisting that he or she search your vehicle, respectfully remind them of your fourth amendment rights. This might encourage the cop to follow the law, and not search your vehicle. However, be careful with this as you do not want to be disrespectful to the police officer.

If you have been unlawfully searched during a traffic stop, the prosecutor will have to throw out any evidence that is used against you. Your case will be more than likely dismissed, and you will be free to go on your way. However, you will need the help of a criminal defense attorney that knows all the rules and regulations that police officers in Arizona must follow. Our lawyers have many years of experience and will help you to have your case dismissed or acquitted depending on the situation.

If you have been pulled over and feel that the search of your vehicle was illegal, call our office today. Our phones are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will be happy to get started on your case.

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About the Author

This practice has been exclusively devoted to all levels of criminal defense from misdemeanor offenses in municipal court to felony matters in the Federal courts of Kansas and the Western District of Missouri. Paul D. Cramm is qualified to provide defense in Capital and Death Penalty cases.