In late August 2018, a Wyoming state trooper made headlines when he found almost a ton of marijuana in a trailer on I-80. In that case, a pickup driver was pulling a flatbed trailer. During a routine commercial vehicle inspection, a police dog indicated the presence of drugs. A search of the vehicle uncovered marijuana with a street value of more than $7 million.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. To ensure law enforcement does not violate this fundamental right, officers typically must first obtain a warrant before conducting a search. That is not always necessary, though. Here are four times police can search your car for drugs or anything else without a warrant:
1. You give consent
In most situations, consent supersedes the warrant requirement for a police search. Therefore, if you allow officers to look inside your vehicle, they do not need a warrant.
2. Officers have probable cause
Officers typically need reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle. To search it without a warrant, though, they must have probable cause that the vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity. Smelling drugs, seeing contraband and observing strange behaviors are all likely sufficient.
3. Officers arrest you
Officers must protect themselves when arresting a criminal suspect. Because you may reach for a weapon, an officer may usually legally search your car during an arrest.
4. Officers impound the car
If there is no one who can drive your car away after an officer arrests you, you can expect your vehicle to head to an impound lot. Officers regularly search vehicles before impounding them to inventory their contents.
Transporting drugs on I-80 is a recipe for disaster. Still, police cannot always search your vehicle without obtaining a warrant. By understanding when warrant-less searches are permissible, you can better plan for staying out of trouble.