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The Supreme court has noted that vehicles may hold reduced rights of privacy due to the fact that they are inherently less private. Friends, relatives and even acquaintances could have access to the vehicle, making the argument they may not be private places. Vehicles are usually easy to see into, are subject to strict government regulations (license plates, registrations, etc,) and for these (and some other reasons) are more subject to warrantless searches.

Most criminal defense attorneys in Los Angeles (and California) would advise that you are to be very cautious with what you put into, or carry, in your car, truck or suv. There are times a warrant would be needed to search your vehicle, but there are also definite exceptions to that rule.

The major exceptions are:

  • If an officer does not have a warrant, then they may ask for your permission to search your vehicle. If you give consent to a search without a warrant, then anything that is found, or recovered from the vehicle can be used as evidence in court, and can be used against you.
  • The police may search your vehicle if they have probable cause that it contains evidence of a crime or illegal contraband. They may look into the vehicle and see what may be illegal narcotics. This would give them probably cause to search the vehicle.
  • If you are arrested by the police, then they also may search your vehicle. This is called a search incident to arrest. If handcuffs are used, then law enforcement can only search your vehicle if you were in reach of it’s passenger compartment.
  • The police can search your vehicle if it is impounded. Anything inside the vehicle can be inventoried and used against you in court.

Most all criminal defense attorney’s in Los Angeles (especially those who are most familiar with warrants), would always counsel you not to give your consent to a warrantless search. You are never under any obligation to do so. Intimidation (even mild) may be used to get you to allow the search.

In 2011, the laws changed regarding search incident to arrest, and law enforcement has to adhere to strict guidelines regarding this type of warrantless search. A well-versed criminal attorney in Los Angeles (especially one who is familiar with warrants and their use), may be able to work to dismiss anything found and used against you by the use of a search incident to arrest.

Probable Cause and Giving Consent to Search your Vehicle

In the state of California, you should assume that when stopped by the police, they always may try and search your vehicle. They may intimidate you to try and do so, if they don’t have any other way. There are very few situations in which giving permission to search is in your best interests. An attorney can help you from the very beginning of your interactions with law enforcement during a traffic violation.

If you give consent, they can search all the compartments in the car, and usually the bags or packages found. It really is never a troubling situation for you, and even more so if you may be coerced to do so.

Probably cause for searching your vehicle can be a bit more difficult to deal with. The officer may ask you a series of questions, such as:

“Do you have any marijuana in the car?” You answer:”Yes, but only a very small amount for my use.” You now have given them probable cause for the search.

The questions may seem simple, and non-incriminating, but you have to be extremely careful with what you voluntarily say. Once probable cause is determined, the vehicle can be gone through in depth. Once again, anything uncovered, can be used in court against you.

Some stops for traffic violations can even end up in warrantless searches. If you have a suspended license and are stopped, your vehicle can be impounded and then searched thoroughly.

It is very important to remember that you are very careful what you bring into, or transport in your vehicle. Anything found in a warrantless search of your vehicle can be used as evidence and may result in felony charges and severe felony penalties.

Was my Vehicle Searched Legally?

In L.A, and California, there are very clear rules about when police can search your vehicle. You may think that law enforcement follows all of these rules, but honestly that may not always be the case. In truth, most rights violations may be accidental, as the police may follow a “search first and ask questions later” policy. Illegal searches are not uncommon DUI cases, in Los Angeles or all of California, especially in Drug DUI’s.

There are two main reasons for this:

  • The rules are very complex in these cases, and the police may be unsure they are following them, but eager to make an arrest.
  • Similarly, law enforcement are simply far too eager to find evidence and make the arrest and the case.

Even if the illegal search were to be completely accidental, your rights still were violated. A criminal attorney familiar with warrants, and/or DUI law could object to the use of any evidence found during the search and possibly get it dropped from the case.

If you suspect your vehicle was searched illegally, you should retain a criminal attorney familiar with the warrant laws in Los Angeles, and all other pertinent aspects of your case (such as DUI, or drug related DUI).

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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