We see scenes on TV where police officers pull over a suspicious driver, demand the driver get out of their car, and start searching the vehicle without a warrant. Film is one thing but can this happen in real life?


The media consistently reports about traffic stops gone wrong, so it’s natural for the average citizen to wonder what rights are really available.


First thing’s first: the police can’t pull you over without probable cause. If you’re driving around Cedar Rapids to complete your daily errands and doing nothing wrong, chances are the cops will keep driving down the road.


Police won’t randomly stop you and look for drugs in your vehicle, they have to have a reason, also called “probable cause.”


For instance, if you’re speeding down 1st Avenue, the police pull you over and see evidence of drugs or paraphernalia in the vehicle, then they can complete a full-scale search. Let’s also say the police officer was nice enough to not give you a speeding ticket. The officer doesn’t need to provide probable cause for the stop in court. Their notes based on the scenario would be enough evidence.


Let’s look at 5 reasons cops can search your car without a warrant.


1.You give permission


Giving an officer permission to search your car seems like an obvious decision, but sometimes it happens by accident. Being pulled over can quickly become overwhelming and before you know it, you’ve been persuaded to let the officer search your car.


You should know that consenting to a search means you waive your Fourth Amendment right. If the cops find any evidence during their search, it can be used against you and anyone else in the car even if the person who gave consent isn’t authorized.


2.The police officer has probable cause


If the Cedar Rapids police have clear facts or evidence that you’ve been involved in a crime, they have probable cause to search your car without a warrant.


You should also know that:


  • A hunch isn’t enough
  • The probable cause exception is also known as “the automobile exception”


3.There’s something in plain view


Do you have illegal items visible from the outside of your car? If a police officer spots something in plain view, he or she can search your car without a warrant. It’s also likely that item will be seized.


Why is this the case? The government doesn’t want police officers to walk away from crimes or potential crimes they spotted with their own eyes.


4.There’s an emergency


The police can conduct a warrant-less search in two types of emergency situations.


  • Officers will search your car if it’s likely criminal evidence will disappear before they can obtain a warrant. An example of this would be any evidence found under your fingernails that can wash away, though these situations are rare.
  • In the event of a “true” emergency. For example, if officers get reports of a nearby shooting, and they see the suspect’s alleged vehicle, they can search it to prevent any further shootings.


5.In the event of an arrest


If the police arrest you, they may (and can) search your car. However, there are rules for this type of situation.


  • The police may opt not to search your vehicle’s trunk during a search incident to an arrest. They may only search the areas controlled by the driver as a search incident to arrest of the driver.
    • FYI, the entire passenger area of a vehicle is considered to be “in control of the driver” and can be legally searched as well.
  • Once the arrested driver is under police control and safely placed into the squad car, the police may only search the vehicle when they have reason to believe there is an item connected to the arrest present.
  • If your vehicle is impounded and is in police custody, they can search the entire thing.


Contact a criminal attorney today


If you believe the police have conducted an illegal search of your vehicle, speak to one of Cedar Rapids’ experienced criminal attorneys. Cory Goldensoph PC represents clients in Cedar Rapids who are facing criminal charges. Call today to receive a free case evaluation.