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Can the police search my car without a warrant?

On Behalf of | Apr 7, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Police in Hawaii must have reasonable suspicion to pull you over. Reasonable suspicion means that a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a crime is in process, has already occurred or is going to occur.

But what happens if they ask to search your vehicle during the stop? Can they do that? If so, under what circumstances?

Police must typically have probable cause to search

The law states that the police must have a warrant before searching a person, place or thing. A warrant cannot be obtained without probable cause.

The standard for probable cause is higher than with reasonable suspicion.

Reasonable suspicion can develop through looking at a vehicle or watching a person. However, to have probable cause, the police officer must have specific facts to support their claim that a search is necessary.

Therefore, without probable cause to obtain a warrant, the police generally cannot search your car.

Exceptions to probable cause

However, there are exceptions to this rule. The police can search your car if you give them permission to do so, but they cannot threaten or bully you into allow them to search.

This is why it is important to stay silent when you are pulled over and never give the cops consent to search your car.

Another exception is when exigent circumstances are present. This means that a search must be conducted immediately because it is an emergency situation.

Exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search usually involve someone’s life being in danger or evidence being destroyed if a search is not done right away.

When it comes to cars, the cops could search your car without a warrant using the exigent circumstances exception if they have probable cause that your car contains evidence of a crime or that you are going to destroy evidence once you drive away.

Defending your rights

These types of encounters are tricky and whether a search was legal depends on the details of the situation. If your car was searched without a warrant, it is best to talk with a criminal defense attorney to see if any of your rights were violated.