When Can Tampa Police Search Your Car

Traffic stops are uncomfortable. No matter why the police pulled you over, you instantly become nervous. If you’re Black, a person of color, or an immigrant, there’s an additional level of fear.

It’s important to overcome your nerves so you can respond calmly and politely. You need to know what you can do and say to protect yourself, and hopefully, drive away.

But it may be too late, and you weren’t prepared for a traffic stop. If you’re arrested and charged with a crime after a vehicle search, call Brett Metcalf, Criminal Defense Attorney, P.A. These searches are often related or lead to suspended driving privileges, DUI, drug, or weapons charges.

Brett has years of experience and can help determine if the police conducted an illegal search. This may lead to getting evidence suppressed, reduced charges, or a dismissal. To learn more, call (813) 258-4800 or use our online form to request a free consultation.

When Can the Police Search My Car?

There are several ways the police can legitimately search your vehicle. The first is through a warrant. If you’re suspected of a crime, the police can go to a judge and ask for permission to search your property, including your house, vehicles, and offices. The judge will grant that request if there’s probable cause you committed a crime.

The police can search your vehicle without a warrant, too. They can lawfully search your vehicle as long as the circumstances are reasonable and:

  • An officer has probable cause that there is evidence you committed a crime in your vehicle;
  • The officer reasonably believes searching your vehicle is necessary for their protection; or
  • You’ve been arrested, and the search is related to the arrest.

For example, if you are pulled over and arrested for drunk driving, the officer can search your vehicle for containers of alcohol or drugs. Or, if an officer fears for their safety, they can search the vehicle for any hidden weapons, like a gun or knife.

Police Searches at the Impound

Another way the police can search your vehicle is if it’s impounded. If your vehicle is towed and impounded for any reason, the police can go through it and inventory everything in the car, including the glove compartment and trunk. The only exception is that the police can’t impound your car for the sole purpose of searching it. If you think that happened, call a lawyer right away.

What Should I Do if the Police Ask to Search My Car?

There’s one last way for the police to lawfully search your vehicle, and that’s if you say they can. During a traffic stop, the police might ask if they can look in your vehicle, the glove compartment, or your trunk.

The request can sound very informal, such as “hey, do you mind if I check in this glove box?” Or “Do you mind opening the trunk?” Don’t be fooled by how casual the officer sounds. They’re trying to search for evidence of a crime.

If the police ask to search your vehicle, it’s because they don’t have a lawful way of doing it without your permission. You should say no, and you can’t be punished for denying a search request. Say, “No, officer, I don’t consent to you searching my vehicle,” or “No, you may not search my vehicle.”

How Do I Know if the Police Illegally Searched My Car?

One of the challenges with vehicle searches is that the police have considerable discretion when conducting a search. Under the law, you don’t have the same level of privacy and security in your vehicle that you do in your home.

But there are limits, and you should know the signs that a vehicle search lacked probable cause:

  • You were pulled over for a mundane traffic violation, like speeding, a broken tail light, or rolling stop. The police don’t have a right to search your vehicle based on a simple traffic ticket. There has to be something else that gives them probable cause.
  • There was no reason to suspect you were committing a crime. The police need probable cause to search your vehicle, like drugs or open alcohol containers in plain sight. If you were sober and nothing could give the cops a reason to suspect criminal activity, the search was probably unreasonable.
  • You were eventually let go without being charged with a crime. If you were arrested then let go without being charged with a crime, it could be a sign that officers took things too far at the traffic stop. Only later did they have to admit they had no reason to keep or charge you, which means they probably didn’t have a good reason to look through your car, either.

What Can I Do About an Illegal Vehicle Search?

If you suspect a vehicle search wasn’t lawful, call a lawyer and ask them to review what happened.

Brett Metcalf will ask you specific questions about what happened, including what you or the officer’s said or did leading up to the vehicle search. He’ll go further and obtain information from the police, including a copy of the dashboard and body camera footage. This can be key evidence in whether the police had a good, lawful reason to search the vehicle or not.

If Brett finds evidence that the vehicle search was unreasonable, he’ll use this information to file a motion to suppress any evidence illegally obtained. He also might file a motion to dismiss your case if it’s based entirely on illegally obtained evidence.

Call Brett Metcalf, Criminal Defense Attorney, P.A. for Help

The police don’t have the right to do whatever they want. Though there are times when the police seem all-powerful or unstoppable, criminal defense attorneys know the limits. Talk with Brett Metcalf as soon as possible if you were charged with a crime and believe the police conducted an illegal search. You can reach out online or call (813) 258-4800 to request a free consultation.