When Can the Police Search Your Vehicle in Arizona?

police car search

When Can the Police Search Your Vehicle in Arizona?

If a police officer pulls you over when driving in Arizona, it does not automatically mean they can search your car. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you from unlawful searches and seizures, including searches of your vehicle. In most cases, police officers may not search your vehicle without a search warrant or your consent.

However, in some cases, police officers do not need a warrant or your consent to perform a legal search. But how do you know whether or not a search of your vehicle is legal? Here’s how to recognize when your rights are being violated during a traffic stop, and what to do when you’re the victim of an illegal car search.  

When Can Arizona Police Officers Search Your Car?

1: They Have a Warrant

A search warrant is a legal document that allows a police officer to legally search a specific piece of property for evidence without the owner’s consent. If a police officer has a warrant, they can confiscate any evidence found in your vehicle during a search, as long as that evidence is described in the warrant. 

In order to obtain a search warrant, a police officer must be able to prove to a judge that a crime has been committed. If a judge then signs the warrant, the police officer can use it to search your vehicle without your permission.  

2: You Give Consent

The police can legally search your car without a warrant if you consent to the search. However, when a police officer asks you permission to search your car, you have the right to deny their request. The police officer cannot bully or coerce you into giving consent. However, if a police officer has a search warrant or probable cause, they do not need your consent to search your vehicle.

3: There Is Probable Cause

Probable cause refers to when a police officer has a reasonable belief that you have committed or are currently committing a crime. Before the police officer can request a warrant, make an arrest, conduct a search of your property, or even pull you over, they must have probable cause. Many circumstances can be considered probable cause, and allow a police officer to search your vehicle without your consent or a warrant. 

Examples of probable cause include:

  • Reliable witness statements—for example, your car matches the description of a vehicle that was involved in a crime.
  • The police officer reasonably believes that their own safety is at risk.
  • They see visible weapons, drugs, or drug paraphernalia inside your car.
  • When you admit to or provide information about having evidence or contraband inside your car.

4: You Were Arrested or Your Car Was Impounded

If you commit a misdemeanor or felony while driving, especially driving under the influence, you will likely be arrested after a police officer pulls you over. Because the arrest happened in or near your car, the police can legally search your vehicle without a warrant or your consent.

If the police have to impound your car after the arrest, they will take inventory of all items in your car and confiscate any illegal items or evidence in the process. The police can also impound your car if it was involved in a crime or you parked illegally, allowing them to search it without a warrant. 

What to Do If a Police Officer Illegally Searches Your Car

If a police officer violates your rights by performing an illegal search and seizure, you should consult an attorney about filing a motion to suppress. If the court deems the search illegal, any evidence that was confiscated during the search will not be admissible in court due to the exclusionary rule. However, just because a search was proven to be illegal does not guarantee that your charges will be dropped.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona

If you have been charged with a crime in Arizona, the expert attorneys at Van Norman Law in Scottsdale can help. We have years of experience with DUIs, drug offenses, and many other criminal charges that often involve a search and seizure. We’ll defend your rights and ensure your case gets the best possible outcome. Call 480-481-0616 today to schedule a free consultation.

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (5/19/2022). Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash