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When Are Police Allowed to Search My Car?

dog conducting a car search

No matter who you are, getting pulled over for a traffic stop in Illinois can be intimidating and nerve-wracking. A standard traffic stop can feel even more intimidating should the police decide to search your vehicle. Under the Constitution, you’re protected against unreasonable searches, but you might not be sure when a search is illegal, and when it’s allowed. Learn more below about when a cop can search your car during a traffic stop, and contact a knowledgeable Chicago area criminal defense attorney if you believe your rights may have been violated during a search.

Even if you’re pulled over for a roadside traffic stop, police officers cannot search your vehicle simply because they have a hunch that they might find contraband. Law enforcement must have a legal basis to search your car. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution makes it illegal for police to conduct a search or seizure of an individual’s property without a court-issued warrant. There are many exceptions to the warrant requirement, one of which is the automobile exception. Police do not need to seek a judge’s permission before searching a car pulled over in a traffic stop, but they do need to have either the driver’s consent to conduct the search, or probable cause to believe that the driver was or is involved in criminal activity.

Driver consent is the simplest way for police to gain the right to conduct a search. Police may ask to search your car, and if you say yes, then they don’t need any further legal basis to conduct a search of your vehicle. You are not under any obligation to say yes when an officer asks to search your car; you may politely and calmly decline. If they proceed with the search, police will need to show that they had probable cause to conduct the search.

An officer can claim that probable cause to conduct a search existed if they can name a fact or circumstance that supported their belief that an occupant of the car was involved in some criminal act. For example, if a police officer can see drugs or drug paraphernalia when looking into a car during a stop, then they can show the existence of probable cause to conduct a search. Police can also conduct a search if you’re being arrested, or if they feel that their safety is in jeopardy.

In some cases, an officer who claims to have had probable cause to conduct a search is mistaken. If an officer relies on an insufficient basis when claiming probable cause, then an attorney may be able to help you have the results of the search declared inadmissible by a judge. Inadmissible evidence cannot be used in a criminal prosecution against you.

If you believe that you’ve been the victim of an illegal search in Illinois, or are facing other criminal charges in the Bridgeview Courthouse or Markham Courthouse, make sure you have a strong defense against any charges by contacting the experienced and aggressive Chicagoland criminal defense attorney John Fairman in Homewood at 708-799-4848, with additional offices in Bridgeview at 708-960-4806.

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Lee & Fairman, LLP, has offices in Homewood and Bridgeview, IL and Indianapolis, IN and serves clients in and around Chicago, Indianapolis, Worth, Elmwood Park, River Grove, Melrose Park, Stone Park, Franklin Park, Lincolnwood, Robbins, Schiller Park, Elmhurst, Oak Brook, Hinsdale, Clarendon Hills, Westmont, Amf Ohare, Villa Park, Darien, Evanston, Niles, Lemont, Morton Grove, Downers Grove, Lombard, Park Ridge, Golf, Addison, Lisle, Glen Ellyn, Elk Grove Village, Wilmette, Woodridge, Kenilworth, Des Plaines, Cook County and Du Page County.

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