Search of an Automobile

We all hope that when we pass a police officer while driving that they don’t pull out and turn on their lights, however, it is not an uncommon situation for someone to find himself or herself in. After you have been stopped and an officer has approached your vehicle there are several typical questions an officer may ask you such as where are you coming from? Where are you going? But what happens if an officer begins looking into your car windows, or even asks to look in your trunk? Can an officer search your vehicle? Can an officer search of an Automobile? It is important to understand what that entails and what your rights are.

What IS NOT considered a search of an automobile?

If an officer looks inside the window of your vehicle and observes anything that is readily visible in your vehicle, this is not considered a search. If you have been pulled over for a traffic violation the officer may lean into the window while you are in the vehicle to speak with you. An officer can even go as far as to open the doors of the vehicle while you are in the car and this is not considered a search. The reason behind this is that these are considered legitimate self-protective measures to help protect an officer’s safety.

What IS considered a search of an automobile?

Once an officer asks you to step out of the car, they may not go past the plane of the vehicle doorway without it being considered a search of the automobile. This means that once you are outside of the vehicle if an officer leans their head into an open window or door, a search has been conducted in the eyes of the law.

The purpose is also a factor in determining whether a search has been conducted. If an officer enters a vehicle on the basis of the emergency doctrine, which allows an officer to take action in the case of a critical need for aid, the entry is considered justified. If, on the other hand, an officer leans into a window on the basis of a protective measure and the court find no evidence to indicate that the officer believed they were in danger the actions would constitute a search.

It can be difficult to determine what does and does not constitute a search of an automobile. An experienced lawyer can help you to understand your rights and the laws related to your vehicle privately. Cambareri & Brenneck consists of practiced defense attorneys with history as former prosecutors, who know-how defend your future and guide you to the best possible outcome. Call us for a free consultation now.

Was it a lawful search?

Once you have determined that a search has been conducted, the next step is determining whether or not it was a lawful search. What warrants the exemption of an automobile search from warrant requirements? Mobility and probable cause together allow an officer to lawfully search a vehicle prior to obtaining a warrant. If an officer has probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains the evidence of a crime, a weapon, or contraband of some sort then they may lawfully search the vehicle. This search includes the trunk, containers within or attached to the outside of the vehicle, and the vehicle occupants.

Probable Cause

Probable cause can come from a number of different sources such as statements from a victim of a crime, anonymous tips, police surveillance, or narcotics dogs. In some cases, probable cause exists independently of an arrest, while in others the circumstances for probable cause for arrest also provide probable cause leading to the search of the vehicle. The law dictating probable cause for a vehicle search is complicated, and it takes an experienced lawyer to determine if a search was lawful. A practiced lawyer can not only help you to determine if the search was lawful but they can guide you toward the best possible resolution for your case. At Cambareri & Brenneck is we are invested in each and every client. Our legal team will help you to navigate the complicated legal guidelines surrounding the search of an automobile and work to help you protect what is important-your future.

Citation: New York Search & Seizure, 2014 Edition