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Vehicle Search Without a Warrant in California

Often, a client will ask us how police searched their car without a warrant. Time and time again, that is the case. Whenever you drive, whatever you have in that car, you can be subject to a search without a warrant. In the state of California, there are certain exceptions to the search warrant requirement. There are also a number of those exceptions that apply to your car. We often think they are unable to search a vehicle without a warrant, but because of the nature of the car, the mobility and the ease of nature of the items in the car to be destroyed or moved, the Supreme Court of both the state of California and the United States have come up with a number of exceptions.

Allowing the Right to Search Your Vehicle

One of the most common ways that an innocent person's car gets searched is that they reluctantly gave permission for the officer to search the car. Officers will ask them, "Can I search your car?" Far too often, people say that they let the officer search the car. Once that consent is granted, the officer can search every compartment, bag, and look for evidence for contraband and crime.

Another way happens to innocent people frequently. If someone is driving with a suspended license or failed to renew their license, under California law, the car can be impounded. When a car becomes impounded, the officer is allowed to do an inventory search of the car, documenting all the items in it. From a legal standpoint, the excuse for that is that all of the property is accounted for at the beginning and end of the impound. In reality, it is used by officers to search for contraband. Often, people driving have marijuana, cocaine, or some other item in the car that they have forgotten about. Once the search is on, when the item is found, the ticket to driving without a license is now a felony charge against them. Keep in mind that any point in time, a relatively innocent person can have their charge search.

What Is Classified as Probable Cause?

If an officer can state probable cause for his belief that there is an illegal item or contraband in your car or evidence of a crime in your car, he is authorized for a search without a warrant. Also, if an officer asks, "do you have marijuana in your car?" and you say yes, he now has probably cause to search your car. If he asks you if there's anything illegal in the car, and you respond by saying there's a gun that's not registered to me, he now has probably cause to search your vehicle. The last exception is if you get stopped by an officer and get arrested in your car, it allows him to search the compartment for the car that you are in. These are critical to remember, but what is more important is that you should not break the law. However, in these instances, the search of a car can lead to felony charges and severe felony cases.

At West Coast Defense, we take pride in our ability to file motions to suppress evidence and challenge the search of motor vehicles.​​​​​

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