If a police officer pulls you over for suspicion of driving under the influence or for any other reason, it is possible that the officer will want to search your vehicle. Any alcohol or controlled substances found in your vehicle can incriminate you of a criminal offense, so it stands to reason that you should not consent to a search lightly.
The question remains, though, as to whether or not the police can actually search your car without your consent. You can protect yourself by knowing exactly when a police officer may search your car and what you can do if a wrongful search takes place.
When are the police allowed to search my car?
A police officer may indisputably search your vehicle if they have a warrant or if you offer your consent. An officer might also assert their authority to search your vehicle if they have reasonable cause to believe that illegal activity is occurring, though this is less clear-cut and might not hold up in court. If the police do not have a warrant, it is important for you to exercise your right to remain silent so as to not accidentally offer consent or any admission of guilt.
What can I do about a wrongful search?
If a police officer collects evidence during a search without consent or a warrant, you have the right to contest the validity of that evidence in court. The Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule states that the prosecution cannot use evidence against you which is the result of an illegal search and seizure.
There are very limited circumstances in which a police officer can search your car without consent. If this does occur, it is a wrongful search that you can fight against in court.