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What happens 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 car, or to be asked if search the car may be searched may be questions that may catch you flat-footed and afraid for what may happen next.

As such, this post will briefly highlight your rights under the Fourth Amendment as they apply to roadside 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, 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 a car, things may be different. The police may conduct a “plain view” search of the car 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, it is essentially fair game.

However, the police generally may not search concealed parts of your vehicle (e.g. the trunk, glove compartment) 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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