Imagine being pulled over or at your home and being greeted by a friendly police officer who takes it upon himself to search your car or home. Hopefully, that search does not yield any incriminating evidence, but either way, you will likely ask this question: Don’t the police need a warrant to search my car or house? The short answer is no, not always.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 9 of the Texas Constitution forbid unreasonable searches and seizures. Reasonable searches or seizures are done pursuant to a valid warrant founded on probable cause. Otherwise, the search or seizure is deemed unreasonable unless it is done pursuant to an exception to the warrant requirement. In a hearing on a motion to suppress, the State has the burden of proving a valid exception applies.
Common exceptions to the warrant requirement include the automobile exception, inventory search and search incident to arrest.
A very abbreviated explanation of the automobile exception is that if the car is mobile and the police have probable cause to believe it contains evidence of a crime, then they can search without a warrant. For example, if the police smell the odor of marijuana emanating from the car, courts have held the automobile exception applies.
Under the search incident to arrest exception the police may search the passenger compartment of a person’s car if there is probable cause to arrest the person. But, the police may not search the car under this exception unless they can demonstrate an actual and continuing threat to their safety posed by the arrestee (ex: he has access to weapons that may be inside the vehicle) or the need to preserve evidence related to the crime of arrest. Therefore, if the police pull you over, discover you have an active warrant for an unpaid speeding ticket, and this is the basis for arresting you, then assuming you are in cuffs and unable to access any weapons, they cannot search your car pursuant to the search incident to arrest exception.
Lastly, an inventory search is done when the police impound a car and they search it pursuant to good faith and under a reasonable standardized police procedure.
These are just a few of the may exceptions to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement. If you or someone you know was subject to a search or seizure by police, please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at The Hardy Law Group, PLLC, to discuss your rights.