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Protecting Yourself From Unlawful Vehicle Searches in Texas

Texas motorists, like all Americans, have certain protections against unreasonable searches and seizures of their vehicles. These rights stem from the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and Texas law enforcement must adhere to federal law.

The core principle of the Fourth Amendment is that police cannot search your vehicle without probable cause, which means that an officer must have a reasonable belief that evidence of a crime is present in your vehicle. In most cases, probable cause requires a warrant authorizing the search. A warrant is a court order, issued by a judge, that specifies the location to be searched and the items sought.

However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. Police can search your vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause and one of the following exists:

  • Plain view — The officer can search if they see illegal objects in plain view from outside the vehicle, such as drugs or weapons lying on the seats or floors.
  • Exigent circumstances — There is a perceived threat to public safety. For example, the officer suspects there are weapons in the car and could be used against them or others.
  • Search incident to arrest — If you are arrested for an alleged crime, the officer can search the area within your immediate reach for weapons or evidence related to the arrest.

You have the right to refuse a search of your vehicle. You cannot be compelled or coaxed to give your consent. Police may try to convince you that consenting will make things go better for you, but this is not the case. If you consent, you are essentially giving up your Fourth Amendment rights and allowing the officer to rifle through your vehicle unimpeded. Any evidence seized can be used against you.

Here’s what you should do if you’re pulled over and the officer asks to search your car:

  • Be polite but firm — State clearly that you do not consent to a search.
  • Do not answer questions about what might be in your vehicle. — Any answers you give could potentially incriminate you while giving the officer increased probable cause for a search.
  • Request to call an attorney — You have the right to speak immediately with a lawyer, who can advise you on your best course of action.

If the police search your vehicle despite your refusal, do not attempt to resist their actions. It’s more important to observe and remember everything that happens during the encounter. Your testimony will be relevant evidence in support of a motion to suppress whatever evidence is seized. If you are arrested and have not yet spoken with a criminal defense attorney, do so as soon as possible.

Tylden Shaeffer, Attorney at Law, P.C. in San Antonio represents people in Central Texas charged with state and federal crimes. Call me at (210) 227-1500 or contact me online immediately to schedule a free consultation.

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