The first is if you give consent. This means that even if the police might not have been permitted to do so under other circumstances if you give them permission they can search. Just because an officer asks you for permission to search your vehicle does not mean that you must give must consent and you may refuse. Unless the officer has a warrant or some other legal grounds, he cannot search your vehicle.
Second police are permitted to search within what is known as the wingspan of the driver to make sure that there are no weapons or other objects that can hurt them. This is based on the practical reason that our laws want to allow police officers to perform their jobs with a relative degree of safety.
Third, if the officer has reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe that the driver or the passengers may pose a danger to himself, he is permitted to cut them down for any weapons.
Fourth, if there exists what is known as “exigent circumstances” and they have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to search they may do so without obtaining a warrant. Exigent basically means that there is some urgent or emergency circumstance going on and thus the police are excused from the normal requirements of obtaining a warrant. For example, if the police had reasonable grounds to believe the vehicle contained a ticking bomb, this would be an emergency circumstance and the police would not need a warrant to look for it.
Fifth, if the police already have a warrant that's based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, they are permitted to search either you and/or your car. Thus if the police had a search warrant to search your car based on information that it contained a large quantity of drugs they would legally be permitted to do so.
Sixth, assuming the driver has been arrested, the vehicle will be impounded. Once the vehicle is impounded the police may lawfully conduct what is known as an inventory search of the vehicle, that is they will remove the items and inventory the items in the vehicle for safekeeping. If in this process they uncover other contraband or other evidence of a crime this evidence would be considered lawfully obtained.
The seventh reason the police may search you and/or your car would be if a police officer observes in plain view something that is subject to search or seizure. So for example, if you're driving through Alabama and you have a minivan containing a bunch of marijuana plants that can be seen with the naked eye, the police would be perfectly justified in the seizure of that marijuana. This does not mean that the police can go rummaging through backpacks and boxes and things of that nature just to explore and try to ferret out some sort of evidence.
If you are charged with a crime, you should speak with a competent lawyer as quickly as possible. If you'd like to speak with us, we provide a free case evaluation with no obligation. Just give us a call at 256-533-4529