Published on:

Can the Police Search My Car Without a Warrant?


Searching a vehicle without a warrant


(December 28, 2022) The United States Supreme Court case Mapp v. Ohio established the historic exclusionary rule, which forbids any evidence collected illegally to be used in court, which is consistent with the fourth amendment that protects against unreasonable search and seizure. However, this rule created a tricky situation for traffic officers. It frequently happened that traffic officers had probable cause to believe that illegal activity was being enabled by automobiles. However, by the time they came back with a warrant to search the vehicle, it was out of their jurisdiction, or the evidence was gone. To combat this problem, the Supreme Court ruled in Carroll v. United States to include an automobile exception to the exclusionary rule that allowed traffic officers to conduct warrantless vehicle searches… if certain conditions were met. So, when can an officer search your vehicle without your consent?

When Can a Traffic Officer Search Your Vehicle Without Your Consent?

The Supreme Court did not just allow police officers the freedom to search anyone’s vehicle whenever they wanted. The automobile exception has two conditions that must be met for a legal warrantless search. First, the officer must have probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed or that illegal contraband is present within the vehicle. Second, the car must be “readily mobile,” which just means that it must have the ability to leave with the evidence, not that it has to be moving.

Probable Cause

Okay, so what kind of evidence is enough to be considered probable cause to search a vehicle? Well, the Supreme Court didn’t lay down specific rules for what exactly constitutes probable cause because different scenarios lead to different kinds of evidence. Instead, they set the guideline that the officer should have enough evidence that they would be able to get a warrant if they tried to. You can see how easy it would be for an officer to abuse this rule and claim probable cause when there isn’t any. Most officers are honest and uphold the law, but some of them are not. That is why it is so crucial that you speak to a legal professional at Carabin Shaw if you think your rights may have been violated.

Readily Mobile

Being readily mobile doesn’t mean that the vehicle has to be in motion; it just means that the car must have the ability to move and easy access to the road. This means that a mobile home could fall under this exception under certain circumstances. For example, if the mobile home is not elevated on blocks and has the ability to move with ready access to a public road, it can be searched without a warrant if probable cause exists. The reason that the Supreme Court gave for treating a mobile home like a vehicle rather than a residence is that licensed mobile homes are subjected to frequent inspections and regulations that dwellings are not. So, just because an individual may be using it as a residence and not a means of transportation is irrelevant so long as the mobile home is capable of being used for transportation purposes. However, the police can overstep their authority and search a mobile home illegally just as easily as a regular vehicle. If you believe your rights have been violated, contact our law firm today.

Criminal Defense Attorneys Serving San Antonio

The criminal defense team at Carabin Shaw has been representing the residents of Texas for thirty years. If you believe your rights have been violated, we can help you find out. Contact us for a free consultation at 800-862-1260 today.


Contact Information