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When Can Police Search Your Vehicle?

By Hager & Schwartz, P.A.

October 6, 2016

Because the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unlawful searches and seizures, law enforcement officers are required to abide by the law when stopping, investigating, and arresting individuals suspected of crimes. This means they can search your vehicle only under certain circumstances.

Aside from having a valid search warrant, Florida police can search your car if the following applies:

  • Consent– you give a law enforcement officers consent to search your car.
  • Probable cause – Law enforcement must have probable cause (evidence or facts) to reasonably suspect you have committed or are committing a crime. Probable cause requires an objective observation of illegal activity. Common examples include an officer seeing signs of alcohol intoxication, hearing drivers admit they have been out drinking, or seeing or smelling drugs.
  • Arrest – Searches can occur when an occupant of the vehicle is being lawfully arrested, is within close physical distance to the vehicle, and/or law enforcement has reasonable suspicion to suspect the vehicle contains evidence as it pertains to the arrestee’s alleged crime.
  • Temporarily detained – Florida permits law enforcement to stop and temporarily detail individuals if there is reasonable suspicion the person has committed, is committed, or will commit a crime. This is commonly referred to as stop and frisk. Reasonable suspicion has a lower threshold than probable cause.
  • Impounded vehicle – If a vehicle has been lawfully impounded, law enforcement can conduct a search.

Law enforcement officers know and understand the threshold that must be met in order to lawfully search and implicate individuals suspected of committing crimes. Often, they will lead suspects into saying or doing certain things that provide them with probable cause, or, unfortunately, will conduct unlawful searches and seizures without probable cause. For this reason, it is in your best interests to not speak to law enforcement and to speak immediately with a lawyer.

Because the government’s case often rests on the evidence obtained by and the acts of arresting officers, challenging this element of your case is crucially important. Should it be discovered you were stopped without probable cause, for example, any evidence obtained after the fact could be inadmissible, and the charges against you could be dismissed.

At Hager & Schwartz, P.A., our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys are former prosecutors who understand the burdens law enforcement and the government must meet in order to arrest and convict. Over the years, we have handled a variety of cases of vehicle searches involving DUIs, drug crimes, and other offenses, and we have the experience to evaluate your case and determine how we can help you pursue the best possible outcome.

If you have questions about a criminal charge, contact our legal team as soon as possible for an immediate consultation.