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What should happen if the police want to search my car?

Even the most prudent driver may be stopped by the police at one time or another.  However, being asked to exit the vehicle, or being asked if the car may be searched may catch you flat-footed and afraid for what may happen next.

This post will briefly discuss your constitutional rights as they apply to automobile searches.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. Essentially, the police must obtain a warrant to conduct searches of places where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes a person’s home, their luggage, and most recently decided by the Supreme Court, electronic devices such as cell phones and tablets. 

When it comes to car searches, the police may only conduct a “plain view” search of without a warrant. Basically, an officer can look through a car’s windows to find illegal items in plain sight. So if illegal items are seen in a back seat or protruding from a floor mat, they can be discovered and confiscated.

However, the police generally may not search your vehicle without your express permission. At the same time, if a person is arrested, the police have the right to search the entire vehicle.

As such, a driver is not required to allow law enforcement to search the vehicle except under very specific circumstances. Despite this, there are countless people who allow police to search because they believe that they can talk themselves out of a difficult situation. This usually backfires, resulting in an arrest.

The preceding is not intended to be legal advice. If you have further questions, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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