What is a warrantless car search?

On Behalf of | Dec 6, 2021 | blog, white collar crimes

Though you have some protections under law against unlawful search and seizure, an officer may actually have reason to search your car without a warrant lawfully. Depending on the reason for detention, they can do this after a routine traffic stop or if you give them verbal permission to do so.

It is important to understand the details of warrantless searches and to understand how your rights fit in.

When can officers search your car?

The Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers discusses the matter of warrantless car searches. Under the law, people inside their vehicles have a granted lower expectation of privacy than they do within their own homes. Thus, if an officer believes they have probable cause that they will find evidence of a crime within your car, they may have grounds to search it even without a warrant.

They can also choose to search your car in the event that they believe you have something inside that may harm them, or if they believe they must act to protect themselves.

They may need a warrant to search a trunk or any locked compartments within your vehicle, though. But they can even conduct searches for drugs or weapons if they arrest you.

Your impounded vehicle

If your car got impounded or is about to be, an officer has even greater leeway. Looking inside of locked or closed compartments is a part of the search process. They may impound a vehicle for too many parking tickets, if you left it in a loading zone or if someone reported the car as stolen. However, they cannot impound your vehicle simply to get a “legal reason” to search the car.