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Can the police search my car without a warrant?

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Criminal Defense Attorney and The Charlotte Observer’s 2013 Best Charlotte Lawyer Award winner Brad Smith of Arnold & Smith, PLLC answers the question: Can the police search my car without a warrant?

Question: "Can the police search my car without a warrant?"

Brad Smith:

The simple answer to that question is no. There are instances when the police can search your car without a warrant. If they have pulled you over for a traffic stop and they are walking past your car with a flashlight and it’s at night and they shine the flashlight inside your car and they see what they claim to be drugs or “stolen property” or some sort of evidence of criminal activity inside your car that can give them probable cause to search your automobile.

If you give them consent to search your car, then they don’t need a warrant to search your automobile.

If they arrest you for some sort of criminal activity, and they have probable cause to believe that there is going to be further evidence of that arrest that could be potentially be found inside your automobile, then they can search your car, incident to that arrest.

There are certain circumstances in which a police officer can search your automobile after an arrest as well to inventory certain items inside your car before they would seize a car or something to that nature.

But can a police officer just, without any sort of consent, without a warrant, without viewing any sort of evidence of criminal activity inside the vehicle search your automobile and the answer to that is no.

The sort of simple rule to follow is, you wouldn’t let a stranger off the street search your automobile if they asked, so why should you let a police officer search your car?