You deserve to have privacy. Because of that, the constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures by the police. The police cannot ask to look into your car unless they have a warrant to do so. If they search your vehicle without one, the evidence they find in the car won’t be valid in court. However, you must know that sometimes these warrantless searches are lawful. If the search is legal, and the police find something incriminating in your car, they may accuse you of a crime.
When a search is legal
The fourth amendment states that the police cannot search your car if they don’t have permission from a judge (a warrant) to conduct the search. If the search is unlawful, the evidence the police find cannot be used in court. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. The police are allowed to search your car without a warrant if:
- They see stolen or illegal objects in your car (drugs, bottles of liquor, prescription medication). This is known as the plain view doctrine, and it also applies when the police smell or hear evidence of a crime.
- They have reasonable cause to believe that you have criminal evidence in the car or that you are committing a crime.
- They arrest you.
- You give consent for the search.
An officer has reasonable cause to believe that a person committed a crime when specific facts support their suspicion. This means that the officer cannot search your car based on a feeling or a hunch solely. If they do it without having a specific reason, the courts will not consider the evidence they find to make a ruling.
Beware of your consent
Sometimes, drivers consent to the search because the officers pressure them or trick them into thinking that they may get in trouble if they don’t give in. However, everyone has the right to refuse the search. If you ever find yourself in this situation, you must verbally express that you do not consent. The police may still search your car if they have reasonable cause to do so. However, if it turns out that they did not have a good reason to search your car, whatever they find won’t count as valid evidence in court.
Exercising your rights
If you are ever a victim of an unlawful search, you have the right to defend yourself in court. The court may discharge your criminal charges if they find that the police officer did not have a good reason to search your car, even if they had found criminal evidence in the vehicle. The officers must respect your privacy, and you should not face punishment when you were the victim first.