During traffic stops in Florida, it is sometimes the case that police officers will request to search your vehicle. Or perhaps if some crime was committed, FL police will also have the need to go through a vehicle. However, is it legal for cops to search your car without a warrant? What rights do you have in the state of FL when it comes to police searching your cars? Can the police search my car?
The police are allowed to search your car without a search warrant as long as there is probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime (such as a gun that was used to shoot someone) or contraband (such as cocaine) located in your car. This exception to the requirement that the police first obtain a search warrant before searching your property is based on the idea that you have a lower expectation of privacy in your car because you operate it on public roads and because it is easy for someone to get rid of things like guns and drugs when they are located inside a car that can be driven to some other location where those sorts of things can be hidden or destroyed.
What parts of your car can the police search? The passenger compartment? The trunk? Containers such as purses or backpacks that are located in those areas? The answer depends upon what the police are searching for. If they have probable cause to believe that there is cocaine in your car, then they can search any part of your car that might contain that drug. But if they have probable cause to believe that you are illegally carrying a rifle, they cannot search your glove compartment because a glove compartment cannot contain a large object such as a rifle.
Can the police search things that do not belong to the owner of the car? According to the United States Supreme Court, they can. So long as there is probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime or contraband located in your car, it does not matter who actually owns a particular object such as a purse or a backpack.
Some states require police officers to prove that they did not have enough time to get a warrant before searching a car. Florida is not one of those states. In Florida, an officer is not required to get a search warrant even if she had time enough to do so. In one case that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the police searched a car without a warrant even though that car had been in their custody for three days prior to the search. The Supreme Court found that search to be legal.
Does the automobile exception to the warrant requirement include only cars? No. In one U.S. Supreme Court case, the Court said that that exception applies to motor homes as well. The Court did, however, make a distinction between mobile homes that can be driven away on a moment’s notice and parked mobile homes. The Court also considered whether the mobile home was elevated on blocks, whether it was licensed, and whether it was connected to such utilities as electricity and water.
In another U.S. Supreme Court case, the automobile exception was applied to trucks. Other, lower courts have applied the automobile exception to such things as trailers pulled by trucks, boats, house boats, and even airplanes.
Therefore, if you do have evidence of a crime or contraband in your possession, it is probably wise to not keep it located in your car.
If you have any questions regarding police searches of Florida vehicles, or a question regarding any Florida or federal defense, call the office of Ron Chapman at (561) 832-4348! You can also connect with this West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer online! Ron Chapman has decades of experience and can defend your rights! Contact him today!
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