Most drivers consider the inside of their car almost as personal as their home. Even though you might drive in public areas, you might consider your car or truck to be your private space.
Whether police pulled you over on the road, or they were on patrol in the neighborhood and saw your car, the situation is not an automatic invitation for a search. You have rights. Police cannot start searching your vehicle unless you give consent or they have a fair and legal reason to do so.
Anything in “plain view” is fair game
If police pull you over on suspicion of drunk driving, and they see a beer bottle on the passenger seat, they do not need a warrant to use this detail against you. They do need probable cause that links the item to a potential crime, however. This is the “plain view doctrine,” which is why it is important to secure personal belongings that you wish to remain private in the glove compartment, your trunk or a container.
Warrants protect your constitutional rights
Beyond the plain view doctrine, you have protection against improper searches. Part of your rights involves the requirement for police to get judge approval in the form of a warrant.
Police need a warrant stating that they have a good reason to suspect that there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle and what they expect to find. They must limit the scope of their search as the warrant specifies. For example, they cannot search your home under a warrant that only allows a search of your vehicle.
Proving that a search was improper could prevent escalated charges
Vehicle searches often turn minor traffic stops into serious criminal charges. If law enforcement finds weapons, drugs, paraphernalia or other questionable items in your vehicle, a simple DUI or speeding ticket could even become felony charges.
In these cases, it is important to work with an experienced defense lawyer who knows how to fight the charges. If the traffic stop was improper or the police had no right to investigate your property, your attorney may be able to get the court to dismiss evidence from an illegal search.