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Does law enforcement need a warrant to search my vehicle?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Drug charges

If a police officer suspects you of a drug crime, he or she will likely attempt to search you or your property to find evidence of drug possession or distribution. Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, a police officer must have a valid warrant to search any place where a person may have a reasonable expectation of privacy. These places may include your residence, public restrooms, hotel rooms you have booked, and your person.

While people do have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their vehicles, vehicles fall under a warrantless exception due to their mobility. A Georgia law enforcement officer can search your vehicle for drugs or drug paraphernalia without a warrant as long as the officer has probable cause.

What is probable cause?

If the officer is seeking a warrant, the judge will require the officer to show that they have probable cause before granting the warrant.

However, even if the officer does not have a warrant, the officer may search the property if they have probable cause. An officer with probable cause has reason to believe, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the area he or she is intending to search contains evidence of a crime. A mere suspicion or hunch is not enough to constitute probable cause.

An officer may also seize any items “in plain view” that he or she reasonably believes is evidence of a drug crime.

What happens if a search is illegal?

An illegal search and seizure by law enforcement is considered a violation of your Constitutional rights. Any evidence found by an officer during the illegal search is considered inadmissible in court. If you are facing drug charges, your attorney can file a motion to suppress any unlawfully obtained evidence, and the judge will likely exclude it from the trial. Without this evidence, prosecutors may have a much more difficult time building a case against you.