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Is a warrant required for police to search an impounded vehicle?

Sometimes, a drug case will come out of police discovering drugs during a search of a person’s vehicle. When one thinks of vehicle searches, one probably thinks of searches conducted during traffic stops. Traffic stops, however, are not the only context in which vehicle searches sometimes occur. For example, police sometimes search vehicles that have been impounded.

Now, for many types of searches of a person’s property, police generally need a warrant to conduct the search. There are, however, various different circumstances that fall under exceptions to the warrant requirement. Searches of impounded vehicles are one such set of circumstances. Thus, police typically do not need a warrant to search impounded vehicles.  

Now, this does not mean police are completely without limits when it comes to searches of impounded vehicles. There are generally strict procedures in place that police are to follow when conducting searches of impounded vehicles. Also, while the ability of the police to search an impounded vehicle generally isn’t impacted by why the car was impounded, one thing police are generally prohibited from doing is impounding a vehicle when the sole purpose of the impound is to conduct a search of the vehicle.  

Thus, while the warrant requirement doesn’t apply to impounded vehicle searches, this does not mean that every police search of an impounded vehicle is legal and valid. There are other rules police could potentially run afoul of in such searches.

When a person is facing drug charges as a result of a vehicle of theirs being impounded and police finding drugs in the vehicle, one of the things that experienced defense attorneys can help them with is looking into whether police committed any rules violations during the search that would have made the search invalid.

Source: FindLaw, “Can the Police Legitimately Search My Vehicle Without a Warrant?,” Accessed Jan. 9, 2015

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