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Can Police Search Your Vehicle Without a Warrant in Florida?

Posted on November 20, 2013

So, you have been stopped for a traffic violation. You could have been stopped for something as simple as broken taillight or a damaged windshield. You have been asked for your license and registration and now the officer has asked if he can search your vehicle.

Can he or she search your car without a warrant?

That depends if the officer believes that he or she has probable cause to search your automobile. Probable cause, in the case of a traffic stop, can be a rather vague and relative term. For instance, an officer can say that he smells marijuana coming from your vehicle, which he can then claim gives him probable cause to search your car. Even if drugs are not in plain sight, an officer may be allowed to search your glove compartment or trunk while conducting his search.

However, if it is determined that an officer pulled you over on some pretext simply because you were driving in a neighborhood where drugs are sold, then that is not probable cause for searching your vehicle.

Of course, if drugs or other illegal contraband are in “plain sight” in your vehicle an officer may once again claim probable cause in order to justify a search of your car.

If the police suspect that your vehicle contains something illegal, they may go on a fishing expedition and ask permission to search your automobile. They may tell you that if you have nothing to hide, then you wouldn’;t mind a vehicle search. Or, they may try other subtle forms of coercion to get your consent.

Know that once you give your consent, you have given them carte blanche to legally search your vehicle and to use anything they might find as evidence against you.

You must be careful not to assume that the laws concerning vehicle searches are the same as those for home searches. For instance, the United States Supreme Court recently upheld a Florida Appellate Court ruling that it is illegal to use drug-sniffing dogs outside of a home to detect drugs inside the home without first obtaining a warrant.

However, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police could use drug-sniffing dogs without a warrant during vehicle stops. The Court recently went even further by ruling that an officer could rely on a drug-sniffing dog for probable cause to search a vehicle.

Do you believe that your vehicle was illegally searched and that your Fourth Amendment rights were violated? Do you understand your rights when it comes to search and seizure?

If you have questions concerning your case, Farah & Farah in Jacksonville can help. Call us at (800) 533-3555 for a free, no-obligation consultation. Or simply contact us online.