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Does a Police Officer Need a Warrant to Search My Car?

 Posted on November 17, 2021 in Criminal Law

waukesha county criminal defense lawyerSeeing police lights in your rear-view window is a cause of apprehension. A reel of questions might run through your head, “Why am I being stopped?” “What questions will they ask me?” “Am I in trouble?” Simply being pulled over is enough to make your heart flutter, but your heart rate may elevate dramatically if the officer asks to search your car. At this point, the officer probably suspects serious wrongdoing, and the chance of arrest may have increased.

However, the officer cannot search your vehicle without a valid reason. Due to the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, police officers can only search a car if there is a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. 

When Can Police Search a Vehicle? 

The Constitution protects us from unjustified searches and seizures of personal property. However, the law applies differently to different types of property. Police usually need a search warrant before entering and searching someone's home. However, the expectation for privacy in a vehicle is lower than the expectation of privacy in a vehicle. Consequently, there are a greater number of reasons why police may conduct a warrantless search. 

Police may search your car if:

  • You Give Consent - A police officer is allowed to search your car if he or she asks and you give consent. 
  • There is Probable Cause - An officer may search a vehicle if he has probable cause to believe a crime is being committed or criminal evidence lies within the vehicle. For example, if the driver’s behavior suggests he is under the influence of drugs and the vehicle smells like drugs, the officer may conduct a search.
  • Protection - The officer may search the vehicle if he or she believes a vehicle search is needed to protect his or her own safety. 
  • Arrest- If you are arrested, the police have the authority to search the vehicle. 

Contact a Waukesha County Criminal Defense Attorney

Whenever you are stopped by a police officer, it is important to be as respectful and accommodating as possible. Obstreperous behavior and an aggressive attitude will only escalate the situation. However, never forget that you have rights protected by the U.S. Constitution. Not even the police are above the law, and they must act with propriety before, during, and after an arrest. If you believe your rights were violated during a traffic stop or other police encounter, it is important to talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.

Bucher, Wolff & Sonderhouse, LLP believes everyone deserves fair treatment and strong legal representation.  It is this commitment to service that motivates our lawyers every single day. If you are searching for an experienced Waukesha County criminal defense attorney, contact Bucher, Wolff & Sonderhouse, LLP today at 262-232-6699 to set up a free initial consultation.


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