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Can the police search my car during a traffic stop?

Many people in and around Bexar County will have the experience of being stopped by a law enforcement officer. However, few may be asked to step out of their vehicle, or be asked to allow the police to search their car. In light of this, and the recent incidents involving unarmed citizens being shot and killed by police, there may be some confusion over what a person may do (or say) to protect their rights.

As such, this post will briefly highlight a person’s Fourth Amendment rights as they apply to automobile searches.

Essentially, the Fourth Amendment guarantees citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. This means that the police must obtain a warrant to conduct searches of places where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

It is well settled law that there is a reasonable expectation of privacy within a person’s car, particularly places that law enforcement would have to open before discovering items inside (i.e. a glove compartment, center console or trunk). Because of this, the police may conduct what is called a “plain view” search without obtaining a warrant. An officer can look through a car’s windows to find and confiscate illegal items in plain sight, but he or she may not search your vehicle without your express permission.

Nevertheless, if a person is arrested, the police have the authority to search the entire vehicle.

The preceding is not intended to be legal advice. If you have further questions, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.


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