Can the police search my car looking for drugs?

| May 11, 2021 | Criminal Defense

The most likely circumstance under which someone will interact with police officers is when they’re driving down the road in their vehicle. However, what seems like a stop for a relatively minor traffic offense can turn into a motorist’s arrest on drug charges if the police search your car and find anything they think might be drugs.

Not all searches and seizures are legal. It’s critical that you understand what constitutional rights you have should law enforcement stop you. 

Where is the fine line between a legal and illegal search?

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution makes illegal searches and seizures unconstitutional. Everyone has a “legitimate expectation of privacy,” how that standard is a bit lower when it comes to a person’s car than their home. 

What is the probable cause standard?

Police officers may carry out a warrantless search if they have probable cause that there is evidence related to the commission of a crime in your vehicle. They may also search your car if they reasonably believe that it’s necessary to protect themselves from harm. 

A search can start simply because an officer spots something that could be illegal — like a pot pipe, a roach clip or what looks to be drug residue on your car’s floor.

Warrantless searches after arrests are also possible. Law enforcement can search your vehicle for drugs or weapons once they arrest you for a serious offense such as drunk driving or resisting arrest – but a ticket for a minor traffic infraction doesn’t generally involve the police taking you into custody and, therefore, wouldn’t be adequate grounds to then search your car. 

Police can also search your vehicle after they impound it without first securing a warrant. They may do this because you park your car in a fire zone, handicap space, you have too many tickets or something else. They can lawfully enter into any locked compartments in your vehicle while conducting such a search. 

What can you do if you’re facing drug charges after a search of your vehicle?

If you’re facing drug possession charges following your vehicle’s search, then it’s critical that you understand the difference between a lawful versus an unlawful search and seizure. Sometimes it is not always so clear which one occurred. A criminal defense attorney can aid you in sorting through the facts to determine the best course of action in your defense.