when can police search your car - chicago criminal defense lawyer


If you’re like most people, you’re not quite sure when it’s legal for police to search your car. Do you have to consent to a search? Can they ask you to get out of your vehicle so they can search it? What if police impound your car?

Here’s what you need to know.

When Can Cops Search Your Car?

Police often need a warrant to search your house – but it’s not quite the same when it comes to your car.

Cops only need probable cause to legally search your vehicle.

What is Probable Cause?

Probable cause means police have a good enough reason to arrest someone, conduct a search or seize property. When it comes to searching your vehicle, cops have it when the facts and circumstances they know would also cause a reasonable person to believe that a crime was committed or that there’s evidence of a crime in your car.

Probable Cause Examples

While every situation is different, these are cases in which the police officer most likely has probable cause to search your vehicle:

  • The cop at your window sees roaches in your car ash tray
  • You open the window and a cloud of pot smoke comes out
  • You admit that you’ve been smoking weed in your car
  • You have an open container of alcohol in the front seat
  • You have a gun on the front seat in plain view
  • You admit to committing a crime

What if a Cop Wants to Search Your Car?

If a police officer wants to search your car, these are the three things you must do:

  • Be polite. Never, ever talk back or use profanity – there’s no need to do so, and it will put the police officer on the defensive.
  • Be quiet. Don’t offer up any extra information. The less you say, the better. That’s even true if you’re completely innocent! There are plenty of innocent people in Chicago’s jails, and they’re there because they just didn’t know when to stop talking.
  • Don’t consent to a search. Police might say things like, “You don’t mind if I look in your car, do you?” or “What do you have to hide?” in order to get your consent to search your vehicle. You can politely and calmly say, “I don’t consent to that search.”

It’s important to know that if you refuse a search, it doesn’t give police a reason to arrest you. The 4th Amendment protects you from unreasonable searches.

While every situation is different, and you should always talk to your lawyer after you’ve refused a police search, sometimes illegal searches result in dismissed charges. For example, if a police officer doesn’t have probable cause to search your car but he or she does it anyway, your lawyer may ask the judge to throw out the evidence that the cop obtained. The judge may agree that the officer violated your rights, and that means the police would have to provide other evidence against you – otherwise, they may not have a case at all.

Do You Need to Talk to a Lawyer After a Cop Searched Your Car?

If you didn’t refuse a search, or if a police officer had probable cause to search your car and turned up evidence that’s being used against you, you may want to talk to a Chicago criminal defense lawyer who can defend you in court.

Call us at 847-920-4540 for a free case review right now to tell us what happened. We’ll start building your defense strategy right away.

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