Can Police Search My Car?

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            Winter has set in in Northeast Ohio, especially in the snow belt area, but snow sure does not stop the men in blue from being out on the road.  It also does not stop them from issuing speeding tickets or other traffic violations.  Sometimes, they may even seem to be immune from the cold and want to spend even more time outside and search your vehicle.  Unfortunately, there are times when a police officer can search your car, but as a driver you do still have some rights. If you have the question like can police search my car? then read this article for details. 

            The police are required to let you leave once the issue for the stop has been addressed.  They cannot make you wait longer than necessary unless you have a reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity.  For example, if they suspect a possible OVI, they can detain an individual long enough to perform standardized field sobriety tests.  An individual can ask to leave once the officer returns all the driver’s documents – driver’s license, insurance etc.  If the officer has called in a K-9 unit, a driver may still ask if they are free to go.  The officer cannot continue to detain a driver just to wait for the K-9 unit.

            The police are allowed to request to search the vehicle.  If they have permission to search, they do not need to have a warrant or probable cause.  Every driver has the right to say no to a search.  Drivers should remain polite but still firmly indicate there is not consent for a search.  Simply state, “Officer, I do not consent to any searches.”

            In order to search a vehicle without consent, a police officer must have a warrant or probable cause.  Probable cause means that the officer has a reasonable basis for believing that a crime has been committed. Probable cause is more than just a hunch.   An officer cannot search a vehicle based only on a hunch.

            An officer that pulls an individual over for minor traffic violations, such as speeding, will not have probable cause.  However, if upon the stop the officer sees a doobie in the console, that doobie just gave the officer probable cause to search the car.

            An officer may also search a vehicle if the officer is arresting the driver and the vehicle is towed.  This is referred to as an “inventory search” and its validity will depend on the department’s standard procedures.  Most police departments will take an inventory of the contents of any impounded vehicle.  Additionally, an officer may search your vehicle if there are “exigent circumstances.”  This means that if the officer suspects evidence is being destroyed or about to be destroyed, the officer may search the vehicle. 

            If you believe that an officer committed a warrantless search, be sure to contact the Bangerter Law Firm for an experienced criminal law attorney right in the heart of Lake County Ohio. We can be sure to review each aspect of your case and determine if there is a valid claim to file a motion to suppress.  If an officer did perform an invalid search, any evidence obtained from that search may not be used as evidence during trial.  The court will need to determine whether or not the search was valid.  This does not mean that the case will automatically be dismissed, but it may greatly help your case.