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Can police in California search my car without a warrant?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Aug 27, 2014 | 0 Comments

Yes--but only if they have "probable cause" to believe that your car contains evidence of a California felony

In most cases, police need a warrant to search your residence or office. But cars are different.

In interpreting the Fourth Amendment's ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures," our courts have decided that cars are less worthy of protection than other spaces.

This is partly because they are so easy to move--and so may be moved out of a law enforcement agency's jurisdiction before officers have time to get a warrant.

It's also because we are considered to have less of a right to privacy in our cars.

In any event, the "vehicle exception" to the warrant rule in California allows police to search your car--but only if they have "probable cause" to believe that the car contains contraband and/or other evidence regarding a felony that has been committed.

A police search of a vehicle that is done without probable cause is invalid--and evidence obtained from that search cannot be used to support charges against a defendant. Learn more about California search and seizure laws and if police may search homes without a warrant in California

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.

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