When can police search a vehicle?

On Behalf of | Apr 20, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

New Jersey drivers should know where they stand when it comes to police interaction. They should know what protections the law offers them. They should have easy access to information about what to do in situations involving police.

There is one situation that can occur when getting pulled over by law enforcement that causes many drivers stress: when police ask to search the car.

Do police need warrants to search a car?

Flex Your Rights talks in detail about when police have the legal right to search your car. In general, police do need a warrant to search your property. Though most people think about a house when they think of property, cars fall under this category too. But there is an exception. If police pulled you over in a traffic stop, there is a situation where they can search your car without a warrant. This is if they have “probable cause” to search.

Probable cause is any evidence or facts that point to the driver’s involvement in crime. A hunch is not enough to search a car. Police officers must have some form of physical evidence. A lawful search of the vehicle may occur if there is:

  • Contraband in plain view, like drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • An exigent circumstance, where destruction of evidence may occur while awaiting the warrant
  • Admission of guilt to a crime

What tactics do police use to search your car?

You should also know that police can and will search your car if you give them verbal permission to. They do not need a warrant for this. Some drivers are not aware of the fact that police cannot search without a warrant or probable cause. To avoid “looking guilty,” they consent to search requests. You do not need to do this.

Instead of consenting, you may state that you do not consent to a search. You may say as little as possible and simply be respectful to the officers. This will help keep you safe in your interactions with law enforcement. It may also help keep them out of your car.


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