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Motor Vehicle Exception

A Fourth Amendment Exception

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures..." While in most cases this means that a warrant must be obtained before police can search your property, the Supreme Court has established something known as the "motor vehicle exception."

Why Motor Vehicles are the Exception

In Carroll vs United States (1925), the Supreme Court determined that a police officer does not need a warrant to search a motor vehicle as long as he or she has probable cause to believe that evidence or contraband is located in the vehicle. The court gave two reasons for the motor vehicle exception. First, they said, people have a lower expectation of privacy within their vehicles than they do in their homes. Secondly, the ease of mobility in a motor vehicle creates an inherent exigency to prevent the removal of evidence and contraband.

What is "Probable Cause"?

What constitutes "probable cause" in motor vehicle search cases varies from incident to incident. The Supreme Court hasn't laid down any strict guidelines.

In addition to the motor vehicle exception, there are other circumstances which allow the police to search your vehicle without a warrant.

  1. If you are pulled over and arrested for a crime, an officer may search the passenger compartment of your car.
  2. In addition, an officer may search the passenger compartment of your car if he or she has reasonable suspicion that a weapon may be there.
  3. Lastly, police may search all sections of your car (trunk included) if they have your consent or the consent of the person who has actual or apparent control over the vehicle.

If you did not give an officer consent to search your vehicle and believe you may have been subjected to an unlawful search, you need the help of an experienced New Braunfels criminal defense attorney.

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