The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you protection from an illegal search and seizure of your property. Federal courts have designated some areas as zones of privacy to establish your rights, such as the inside of your home. You may wonder if your automobile also qualifies.
FindLaw explains how constitutional protections apply to your personal vehicle, and when the police may or may not have the authority to search your automobile.
Privacy rights and concealed items
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, whatever a person purposely exposes to public view does not have constitutional protection. Under the plain view doctrine, barring other circumstances such as having a warrant, a police officer would have to see something that qualifies as criminal evidence in order to conduct a search.
Both a home and a vehicle are places where the owner can expect to have privacy, so an officer cannot search them for just any reason. It is when an incriminating item becomes exposed that this expectation of privacy may become void.
Privacy and your vehicle
It is generally easy to maintain privacy in a home unless incriminating items are in view through a window. However, since vehicles have windshields and other large windows, it is easier for an officer to peer through the glass and notice something that might instigate a search.
Still, there are limits to how an officer may look into a vehicle. If law enforcement uses surveillance equipment to check your car, a court may find that authorities violated your civil rights. Given this possibility, it can matter how the police detected supposedly criminal evidence in your car.