Can police search your vehicle without a warrant?

On Behalf of | Jun 16, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

There’s been a lot of controversy around traffic stops by law enforcement for a number of reasons. In some cases, the reasons for the stops are murky, at best. In some cities across the country, law enforcement agencies have even prohibited stops for things like expired license plates and broken taillights that pose no immediate threat to public safety.

Another issue with traffic stops is that law enforcement officers often use the stops as an opportunity to search a vehicle. Is that legal? Doesn’t the Fourth Amendment protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures?

These searches are addressed in the Nebraska Constitution and court rulings

The writers of the U.S. Constitution couldn’t have imagined the vehicles of today. They relied on horsepower (literally) to get around. However, court rulings and individual states have addressed when officers can search a vehicle without a warrant.

For example, under the Search and Seizure article of the Nebraska Constitution, it states, “The requirement of ready mobility for the automobile exception to the warrant requirement of this provision is met whenever a vehicle that is not located on private property is capable or apparently capable of being driven on the roads or highways. This inquiry does not focus on the likelihood of the vehicle’s being moved under the particular circumstances and is generally satisfied by the inherent mobility of all operational vehicles.”

U.S. Supreme Court rulings have also noted the fact that a driver could flee the scene as a reason why police don’t have to wait to obtain a warrant before searching a vehicle. Further, they’ve noted that people have less expectation of privacy when they’re in a vehicle on a public road than they’d have in their homes.

Police are still required to have probable cause that there’s evidence of a crime in the vehicle before searching it. Further, anything that’s out in the open (“plain view”) can be seized without a warrant.

This can be too much to clearly consider if you’re in the middle of a traffic stop and police are searching your vehicle. However, if you are facing a criminal charge as the result of a search during a traffic stop, it’s crucial to ensure that it was a lawful search. If it wasn’t, anything obtained in it may be inadmissible as evidence. This is just one reason to seek legal guidance as soon as possible.