When Are Police Officers Allowed To Search Your Vehicle?

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Being pulled over is a very scary experience. Things may become even more frightening if an officer asks to search your vehicle. It is important to know that under the Fourth Amendment, you are protected from illegal searches and seizures. This protection extends to not only your person, but your personal belongings, such as your vehicle, too. Below are five instances in which law enforcement can search your vehicle.

You Have Consented to the Search

Never give consent for law enforcement to search your vehicle. If you do, it is a legal search and any evidence obtained during it can be used against you. In fact, if a police officer asks to search your car, it may indicate that they do not have the necessary probable cause to conduct a search without your permission.

Police Suspect Criminal Activity

If law enforcement suspects that you are engaged in criminal activity, they can search your vehicle without your permission. However, the search must be limited to the area of the vehicle the officer suspects the crime took place. For example, if a police officer suspects that you were smoking marijuana while behind the wheel, they could search the front seat looking for evidence, but not the trunk.

Evidence is in Plain View

If there is evidence the officer can plainly see from outside of the vehicle, they can conduct a search while looking for additional evidence. Seeing evidence in plain view provides law enforcement with probable cause and so, they can search any area of the vehicle they choose. For example, if a police officer saw an open container of alcohol when they approached your window, that could give them cause to conduct a search.


If a police officer smells illegal drugs or alcohol when they approach your window, that will also give them probable cause to conduct a search of the vehicle. Determining when there is an odor is sometimes highly subjective and so, it is sometimes possible to challenge the argument that law enforcement could have smelled any odor when they approached the vehicle.

You are Arrested

If you are arrested, the officer can search any part of your vehicle looking for evidence. Sometimes, the arresting officer will only conduct a quick search at the side of the road, but law enforcement will search the entire vehicle if it is impounded.

Our Criminal Defense Lawyer in Ouachita Parish Can Challenge a Search

The searches law enforcement conduct are not always lawful and when that is the case, any evidence obtained from the search can be thrown out of your case. You can challenge an illegal search, but it is important to work with an Ouachita Parish criminal defense lawyer when you do. At Whiddon Criminal Defense, our skilled attorney has the necessary experience challenging unlawful searches, and will put that experience to work for you. When you need the best chance of beating your charges, call us at 318-594-3592 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.

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