Vehicle and Passenger Searches: Is This Legal?

Police approaching vehicleIf a police officer stops your car, could they search everyone inside as well as the contents of your vehicle? The answer is it depends, because while the Fourth Amendment prohibits against unjustifiable searches and seizures, the United States Supreme Court ruled that in specific circumstances, it’s entirely legal and reasonable for law enforcement officers to search people inside their vehicles, along with their belongings.

Vehicle Searches with Probable Cause

In general, the police should have a search warrant prior to conducting any search, but there are many exceptions to that. Criminal defense lawyers in Provo noted that a vehicle search is one of them.

The police only need to have a “probable cause,” not a search warrant to inspect a vehicle. To illustrate, a policeman pulls you over because you made an illegal right turn. Let’s say that you have three passengers with you. He then notices that you have a hypodermic syringe in your shirt pocket that looks like it has traces of illegal drugs. He orders everyone to get out, frisks everyone, and starts searching your vehicle for more evidence of illegal activity — in this case, drugs.

The police officer in the mentioned scenario has probable cause because of the syringe they saw in your shirt pocket. He then sees a backpack in the backseat, asks who it belongs to, and one of your passengers claims it as his. When the police officer opens the backpack, he finds illegal drugs inside and arrests the owner of the backpack.

The police officer’s search, seizure, and arrest are valid since he had the legal right to inspect your vehicle for illegal drugs and all things inside your vehicle that could also contain illegal drugs.

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What About Body Searches?

Having probable cause for searching a vehicle does not necessarily give a police officer the legal right to search people inside vehicles or their clothing. However, certain circumstances might enable the police to frisk or search people inside vehicles. For example, if your passenger were legally arrested, the police officer could search him. Police officers could likewise frisk passengers if they have reason to believe that they’re dangerous or are carrying deadly weapons.

Search and seizure statutes, especially as it applies to vehicles, are complex and regularly changes. It’s likewise possible that the laws in your state offer specific protections than those provided by federal law. If you have been arrested due to a vehicle search, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to learn more about your case.