Under what conditions can the police search a car without permission?

I got pulled over for driving through an intersection in a lane that was supposed to be a right turn only. When the officer clocked me he got me at 82 in a 55. The ticket read not obeying street signs, speeding, and illegal/ unsafe lane change. When the cop pulled me over he had me get out of the car. He then handcuffed me and put me in the back of his car. Then without notifying me or asking me for my permission, he entered my vehicle and searched through it untillhe found the hood release lever. He then opened the hood and took a picture. My question is if he violated my righs by entering my vehicle without my permission or a warrant? Was he allowed to enter my vehicle the way that he did?

Asked on November 16, 2015 under Criminal Law, California


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

As a general rule, the police need a warrant to search a person or their property. That having been said, the law with respect to the search of a vehicle is different. During a traffic stop, the police only need probable cause to search. Probable cause means that the police must have some facts or evidence to believe an individual is involved in criminal activity. So, for example, an officer’s hunch without other evidence of illegal activity is not enough to legally search a car; they must observe something real, such as the sight or smell of contraband (in some states) or an admission of guilt of a crime.
That having been said, minor traffic violations (e.g. a broken tail-light expired, expired registration or, as in your case, an unsafe lane change or speeding) are not considered sufficient probable cause for the search of a vehicle.
d on the facts presented, you should consult directly with a criminal law attorney; they can best advise you further.

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

If the police have probable cause (a reasonable belief that criminal activity is afoot), they can search a vehicle without consent and without a warrant.
A search warrant is not required for an auto search because by the time the police obtain and return with the search warrant, the vehicle and any contraband it contains will be gone.

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