Imagine this: you’re driving down the road in Prescott Valley when suddenly you see red and blue lights flashing in your rear-view mirror and the sound of a police siren blaring. It’s a situation that no driver wants to be in. As you rack your brain trying to think of what you did wrong, the officer approaches your car to tell you you’ve been speeding.

As unpleasant as that is, things may take a turn for the worse if the officer then asks if they can perform a search of your vehicle. Do you have to let them? After all, you have protection from unlawful search and seizure per the Fourth Amendment. Normally, to perform a search, the police either need your permission to do so or they need to have a reason to think something illegal has happened.

However, there is an exception — the “automobile exception.” Under that exception, police do not need to first obtain a warrant to search your vehicle before performing the search. Officers may be allowed to search a person’s vehicle in several situations.

One situation is if the driver gives the police permission to search their car. Another is if the police have probable cause to think that there is evidence of some sort of crime in the person’s car. A third situation is if the police have a reasonable belief that they must perform a search of the person’s vehicle to keep themselves safe. Of course, if the police have a valid warrant to search the vehicle, the search can be performed. Finally, police may perform a search if the person has been placed under arrest and the search is done in connection to the arrest.

This is only a very brief overview of when officers may search a person’s car. This post is for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Those who want more information on this topic or who believe their rights have been violated may want to speak to a professional.

Source: FindLaw, “When Can the Police Search Your Car?,” accessed Jan. 16, 2018