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Can the police search my car if I get pulled over?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable search and seizure, and in general this means police must have a warrant or probable cause before they may conduct a search. However, there are times when police can conduct a warrantless search of you and your vehicle. For instance, if you are arrested, police can conduct a search of you and areas within your reach if they believe they may find evidence related to the charged offense. Also, if your car is impounded, the police can conduct an “inventory” search and seize items that may be used as evidence. While you are stopped, police can also search you and areas within your reach for weapons, for their own safety. Additionally, police can seize evidence of a crime that is in “plain view” inside your car when they pull you over.

Lastly, police can search your car without probable cause if you give them consent to search. Often, police may ask if they can search your car, and they may make it sound like you don’t have a choice, but you do. If police ask for your permission to conduct a search, you have the right to refuse. If they tell you they are going to search for one of the above reasons and don’t need your permission, you should not interfere, but share the details of the search with your attorney. If the search was illegal, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to get the evidence suppressed and even get the charges against you dropped.

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