Can the Police Search My Car During Any Traffic Stop?


The top fear of most drivers on the streets of Youngstown, Ohio, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, must be seeing blue-and-red lights in their rearview mirror. Getting pulled over by a police officer is naturally intimidating. Even when you know you did not do anything wrong, nerves might start tricking you into feeling guilty. What happens if the police officer wants to search your vehicle? Do they have the right to do it no matter what? Or, are there specific cases in which they can and cannot start browsing through your car for criminal evidence?

Your Provided Consent to Search

The easiest way for a police officer to start looking through your vehicle is when you let them. If you do not want them to search your vehicle, deny them access to it if they ask to search. Remember that asking you is not the same as ordering you through their authority.

Criminal Evidence Was In Plain Sight

A police officer has the power to seize any criminal evidence that is left in a place that is easily seen without unreasonable intrusion. Furthermore, once criminal evidence is found, the immediate area is generally permissible for search. For example, if an open alcohol container is on the front seat of your car and unhidden, the officer that pulled you over can detain you and begin a search.

Immediate Dangers is a Real Possibility

The police have a duty to prevent harm from befalling others and, of course, themselves. If they reasonably suspect you may be an immediate danger due to others or yourself, they can detain you and possibly conduct a search of your vehicle for weapons.

Probable Cause is Established

Traditionally, a law enforcement officer needs to establish probable cause for conducting a search outside the three previous situations. “Probably cause” is a legal term that basically states the officer has seen or heard enough to believe you have probably committed a crime, based on what a reasonable person would think. For example, if you were swerving all over the road and slur your speech when talking to the office, they can reasonably believe you are intoxicated behind the wheel, detain you, and conduct a search for evidence of an OVI.

They Have a Warrant

A court signed and approved search warrant is a powerful legal tool that will allow law enforcement agents to search the area or property, such as a vehicle, listed in the document. It would be highly unusual for a police officer to have a warrant to search your vehicle after pulling you over, but it might be obtained later if your vehicle is impounded.

Protect Your Rights With a Trusted Attorney

Hartwig Law LLC provides exceptional criminal defense representation to the people of Youngstown and beyond. Attorney Hartwig has more than 25 years of legal experience under his belt and began his own private practice in 2012. He has been highly rated by Avvo, achieving a 10.0 “Superb” rating, and he has also has two selections to Super Lawyers® Rising Stars℠. For representation in your criminal defense or OVI case of his caliber, call our firm at (330) 899-4446 to arrange a free consultation. We proudly offer military and veteran discounts.

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