The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects American citizens
against unlawful search and seizure. This law generally prohibits arbitrary
vehicle searches conducted by law enforcement.
If the police search your car without a warrant, your consent, or a valid
reason, they are violating your constitutional rights. However, there
are several limited situations in which police can search a vehicle without
a warrant or even the car owner’s consent.
Law enforcement can search your vehicle without a warrant under the following
- You have given consent to the police officer
- The officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of a crime
in your vehicle (i.e. the smell of alcohol)
- The officer reasonably believes a search is required for their own protection
and safety (i.e. a hidden weapon)
- You have been arrested and the search is related to that arrest (i.e. a
search for illegal drugs)
So when it comes to vehicle searches, courts often give law enforcement
more freedom compared to when police are attempting to search a dwelling
or residence. According to the “automobile exception” to the
search warrant requirement, courts have recognized that individuals have
a lower expectation of privacy when operating a vehicle compared to being
in their homes.
In addition, if law enforcement towed and impounded your car, they have
the authority to search it. This inventory search can be as extensive
as police wish it to be, and will most likely include unlocking and opening
any compartments or foxes found inside the vehicle. However, the police
cannot tow and impound your car for the sole purpose of performing a search.
If you have been arrested for a
DUI in Ventura County,
request a free consultation with our
Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyers at
Appel & Morse today.