Under what pretenses can a police officer search your car?

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Under what pretenses can a police officer search your car?

My friend had parked in a parking lot at 3:00 in the morning and a police officer searched his car and found alcohol that the driver was unaware of. Was it legal for the police officer to search his car if his only probable cause was that it was suspicious for him to parked so late?

Asked on July 15, 2012 under Criminal Law, New Hampshire


Russ Pietryga / Pietryga Law Office

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor


            With the possible exception of ‘due process,’ there is probably no two-word term in American law that has produced as much confusing commentary as ‘probable cause,’ largely because it has such a roving context.  A finding of probable cause in any given case rarely furnishes a formula for making similar findings in other cases because probable cause depends upon the facts and circumstances of the particular case being reviewed.


            The Supreme Court in Illinois v. Gates, stated “probable cause is a fluid concept—turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts—not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules.”


            Probable cause is the officer’s knowledge of facts and circumstances based on reasonable, trustworthy information sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or person or reasonable caution, to believe that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.

State v. Henderson, 159 P.3d 397 (Utah Ct. App. 2007)


     That said, in your fact scenerio, I think a judge would be hard pressed to find that the officer had probable cause to search. 


Hope this helps.

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