When can Police Search Your Car in Virginia?

According to the Fourth Amendment, “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Well, that is great for your home, but what about your car? Does the same constitutional right cover you on the road? Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court has consistently held that due to a number of facts that distinguish our cars from our homes including that our car is seen as a mobile entity and that there are time constraints in place, your protections are somewhat limited.

These are the three scenarios where police can legally search your vehicle without a warrant:

  • Probable cause — Police have probable cause to search your vehicle if they possess observable knowledge that you have, or are about to, commit a crime. For example, if police detect a strong smell of marijuana in your car, they would have probable cause to conduct a lawful search. Another instance where an officer would have probable cause for a vehicle search would be seeing an open container in the passenger seat. Or, if police spot suspected stolen merchandise in the backseat of your car, they would have grounds to search your entire vehicle.
  • Searches incident to arrest — In the event that you are physically arrested and detained, officers may conduct a search of your vehicle. Often this is done simply to compile an “inventory” of the car’s contents so that no one an accuse the police of having stolen something from you.Police will also try and justify such a search by reasoning that you might gain access to the vehicle after the arrest, or that the vehicle may contain evidence of another crime.
  • Consent to search — Lastly, police can legally search your vehicle if you give them consent. If law enforcement stops your vehicle, they may ask if it is okay to search your car. Remember, you do not have to give consent. Many people WRONGLY believe that if they simply give consent to a search then the chances may be better that the officer will cut them a break when and if they find something illegal.THIS NEVER HAPPENS.Cops will ALWAYS charge you.Never give your consent to search your car.They may still search it anyway, but you will be able to challenge the search and possibly win your case in court.

If you believe your constitutional rights have been violated, seek experienced legal help as soon as possible. With the right defense attorney by your side, you may be able to have evidence thrown out, and charges reduced.

Virginia defense lawyer fights for your rights

The NoVa Law Firm works diligently to assist Virginia residents with traffic violations, DUI, drug charges, and other criminal cases. Call us today at (703) 352-9347 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.

Eric Clingan
About the Author: Eric Clingan
Eric Clingan is an experienced Criminal Defense attorney and the founder of the NoVA Law firm. He focuses his practice on defending residents of Northern Virginia charged with DUIs, reckless driving, drug charges, and other criminal accusations.