What Are My Rights Regarding a Police Search of My Car?

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Most of us have been pulled over by police while driving at least once or twice in our lives. It can be an upsetting ordeal. While the police officer is processing your identification and deciding what action to take regarding the traffic stop, he or she may ask to search your vehicle. What are your rights during a traffic stop concerning a vehicle search? Can you refuse a search? What happens if a police officer discovers drugs or other illicit material in your vehicle? Read on to learn more about your rights regarding vehicle searches in Illinois and what to do if your rights have been violated.

The U.S. Constitution Protects Citizens Against Unsubstantiated Searches

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that citizens have the right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures." In this context, “unreasonable” means without justification. Police do not have the authority to stop and search citizens for no reason. Generally, there must be some indication to police that a citizen is or might be engaged in illegal activity in order to justify searching their personal vehicle during a traffic stop. This is called “probable cause.” Either a search warrant or probable cause must be present in order for police to constitutionally search a vehicle. A Fourth Amendment violation occurs when police do not have a good reason for searching the vehicle and do so anyway. If evidence of a crime such as drugs or stolen items are uncovered during a search which was not justified, the evidence obtained during the search can often be excluded in court.

Do Police Need a Search Warrant to Search My Car or Truck?

The law says that police must have a search warrant to search a person’s property. Vehicle searches are handled significantly different than searches of a person’s home because of the "automobile exception" to this search warrant requirement. Because a vehicle is driven on public roads and can endanger the lives of others, individuals have a lower expectation of privacy when driving a car.

When Can Police Legally Search a Vehicle?

Police may only legally search a car, truck, motorhome, motorcycle, or another motor vehicle if

• The driver/owner of the vehicle gives the officer permission to search it;

• The police officer has probable cause to believe there is evidence of criminal activity in the vehicle;

• The officer believes that a search is needed for their own safety and protection;

• The officer has a court-ordered search warrant; or

• The driver/owner of the vehicle has been arrested.

If your vehicle has been searched and none of the above criteria were met, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you have the charges against you dismissed.

Contact Our Will County Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help

To speak with a qualified criminal defense lawyer in Joliet , Will County, or Grundy County, call the Law Offices of Jack L. Zaremba, P.C. at (815) 740-4025. Schedule your free initial consultation today.