Did you know that police officers cannot search your car without a warrant stating probable cause?
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares that we have the right to be free from unreasonable “searches and seizures” by law enforcement: “The 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.”
This includes police conducting searches of your vehicle without the proper legal work. However, once you verbally consent to a police search, any evidence found may be used against you in a court of law. So if you consent and the officer finds illegal substances in your car, then this can and will be used against you during trial. For example, if you were pulled over for speeding and the officer asks to search your car and you consent, you will be charged for the cocaine you’re keeping hidden in your trunk—regardless if the initial crime was speeding. If you don’t consent and the police officers search your car anyways, it is considered an “unreasonable search and seizure.”
So, what exactly constitutes something as an “unreasonable search and seizure?”
An unreasonable search and seizure is defined by th law as “a search and seizure by a law enforcement officer without a search warrant and without probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is present.”
There are two important things here to note: (1) without a search warrant and (2) without probable cause.
As mentioned above, it is unconstitutional to search a car without a warrant—a legal document authorizing a police officer or other official to enter and search premises—stating probable cause. Unfortunately, the 4th Amendment, only states that “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause”, but fails to specify what “probable cause” actually means. Although the Supreme Court has attempted to precisely define “probable cause,” it has come to been understood generally as “a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for an arrest) or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for a search).”
Despite the murky circumstances that constitute “probable cause,” a physical warrant needs to be presented to you before a police officer can legally search your car—so if an officer asks you if you are granting them to search your car without a warrant, just say NO.