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When can police search vehicles without a warrant?

On Behalf of | Apr 1, 2021 | Criminal Defense

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens in Dallas, Texas, against illegal search and seizure and requires probable cause. This amendment doesn’t allow as much leeway for police to search homes as it does vehicles. While police want to search vehicles, they may not need a warrant in every circumstance.

Probable cause

An officer needs probable cause to search a vehicle without a warrant, which means they have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. However, an officer must base the search on the facts, which the prosecution needs to charge a defendant, not just a hunch. The information must come from something he or she witnessed personally or a reliable source, such as an undercover agent.

For example, if a vehicle that matched a stolen one suddenly speeds past the police, they’d have probable cause to pull the driver over and search the car without a warrant. However, they could not search a vehicle that was just speeding or had violated another minor traffic law. They may also search without a warrant if they have cause to believe they are at risk upon the arrest of the defendant.

Consent and plain view

If he or she finds a bag of cocaine in plain view after pulling a driver over, the officer may seize it as evidence. The vehicle doesn’t have to be in motion, and the officer can use other senses, such as smell.

When an officer doesn’t believe that he or she has probable cause to perform a search, he or she may ask permission. A driver does not have to give permission, but he or she may have a harder time challenging it after giving it. The officer cannot force the driver to agree to searches or make threats.

Despite popular belief, officers cannot search vehicles anytime they please, and an experienced criminal defense attorney may refute the evidence in court. This is why a defendant needs a good lawyer to represent him or her.