When can police search a vehicle without a warrant?

On Behalf of | May 15, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

People in Tennessee drive their cars almost every day or are the passengers in other people’s vehicles. As people are in their vehicles, they may have some of their belongings with them and people may keep certain items in their cars all the time as they drive them frequently. They may keep the items hidden in the glove compartment, in the center console or the trunk so others do not see them as they pass by though. However, this may not be good enough to keep them hidden from the police if they stop the vehicle.

In general people are protected by the Fourth Amendment against unlawful searches of their property, but there is an exception for cars and trucks. The courts have said people do not have the same expectation of privacy in their vehicles as they do their homes and therefore allowed the police to search vehicles more easily than a home.

Police are allowed to stop a car if they have a reasonable belief that the car violated a traffic law even for very minor traffic violations such as a tail light being out or not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign even if there are no other cars around. Once they have stopped a vehicle they cannot automatically search the vehicle but there are situations when they can and they can conduct the search without a warrant.

  • Consent – If the people in the vehicle consent to the police searching, they can search the vehicle.
  • Evidence of Crime – If the police have reasonable belief that the car has evidence of a crime inside the car, they can search the vehicle.
  • Safety – Police can search the vehicle if they reasonably believe there is a weapon in the car and they feel it is necessary to protect themselves.
  • Arrest – If the police arrest the driver for a crime, they can search the vehicle. Being arrested is more than just being stopped for a traffic violation though.
  • Impound – The police can search any vehicle that they impound to inventory the items in the vehicle.

While there are many reasons that police in Tennessee can search a vehicle without a warrant, the police still need a valid reason to stop the vehicle. They also need to have reasonable belief that there is an evidence of a crime or a weapon in the car. So, it needs to be more than just an officer wanting to search a car. If the search is unreasonable any evidence the police find in the vehicle could be suppressed making a conviction unlikely. Experienced attorneys understand the potential defenses and may be able to help protect people’s rights.


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