Can a police officer search a car without the owner/operaton present? 47 Answers as of June 07, 2013

I was at a club with a friend I went outside to get a cigarette. I couldn’t find it. A police officer pulled up and asked me what I was doing. I explained that it was my friends car and showed him the keys. He took them out of my hand. They had me step by their cruiser as they began to search the car. I exclaimed again that it was not my car. They stopped the search but in the process found a container of weed. I told them it was mine and I received a citation.

Ask a Local Attorney. 100% Anonymous. Free Answers.

Free Case Evaluation by a Local Lawyer: Click here
Edward  D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law
Edward D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law | Edward D. Dowling IV
The law of search and seizure is complex and I would need further information to answer bertter, but generally police need probable cause or a warrant to search a vehicle.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 10/21/2011
Michael R. Nack, Attorney at Law
Michael R. Nack, Attorney at Law | Michael R. Nack
Why in the world would you ever tell the police that a controlled substance was yours? You have already made your defense much harder than it needed to be. Under the facts that you give us there may be a good challenge to the search of the car, but that still leaves us with the problem of your "confession". You need to hire the best attorney you can afford and hope that he or se will be able to either defend the charge or at least negotiate a plea bargain that will avoid a conviction being entered upon your record. I hve handled hundreds of such cases in the thirty-three years that I have been practicing law, and I might be able to help you.
Answer Applies to: Missouri
Replied: 9/15/2011
Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider
Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider | Peter Goldscheider
They can search it without the consent of the person in possession of it if they have probable cause to believe there is contraband or evidence of a crime inside it or if the search is incident to a lawful arrest (within limits). It doesn't sound like this search was legal if you are giving me all the facts.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 9/12/2011
Cynthia Henley, Lawyer
Cynthia Henley, Lawyer | Cynthia Henley
You had care, custody, and control over that car as evidenced by the possession of the keys (apparently you having the car open). They really didn't have any right to search the vehicle, but you are in a difficult position because arguably you do not have standing to object to the search. (Had you not said anything about to whom the marijuana belonged, unless they claim they smelled it on you and even then, it would have been difficult to convict you or your friend who owned the car.)
Answer Applies to: Texas
Replied: 9/9/2011
Michael Anthony Wing, P.C.
Michael Anthony Wing, P.C. | Michael Anthony Wing
Probably not a valid search under the 4th amendment to the US constitution. Consult a lawyer. I just had a judge grant a motion to suppress for my client yesterday. His car was searched without his permission and they found weed. The court correctly excluded the evidence.
Answer Applies to: Alabama
Replied: 9/8/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    That would depend on whether the weed was in plain view.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 9/8/2011
    Reza Athari & Associates, PLLC | Seth L. Reszko
    Based on the facts you relayed, without any other information, it would seem that the officers did not have probable cause to search the vehicle and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure. To search a location where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy requires a warrant or one of several exceptions, such as consent to search or exigent circumstances. Here, it appears that the officers did not have consent or an emergency, such as evidence that would disappear or officer safety. Without knowing more it is impossible to give a definite answer, but it appears that the officers may have violated your friend's constitutional right. However, there are arguments on either side on whether or not you have standing to object to the constitutional violation when it was not your vehicle that was searched. Either way, it would probably be beneficial to retain an attorney to represent you on the citation and to give further advice on the possible constitutional violation.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 9/8/2011
    Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC
    Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC | Jacob Peter Sartz IV
    Whether a search was valid is always an issue in criminal cases. It's not a simple issue. I'd recommend you retain an attorney to assist you with this matter. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court will appoint you one at the public's expense. If there are grounds to file a suppression motion and kick any evidence from the stop, it could have a substantial impact on the outcome of your case. However, whether to file the motion is a key decision that should not be made after a careful and thorough review of the applicable case law and your specific facts.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/8/2011
    Michael Breczinski
    Michael Breczinski | Michael Breczinski
    They should not have searched the car if they had no probable cuase to do so. Get an attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/8/2011
    Law Office of Joseph A. Katz
    Law Office of Joseph A. Katz | Joseph A. Katz
    To Whom It May Concern: First and foremost, why did you admit that you owned the marijuana?! Why did you mention that the car did not belong to you? Why was that relevant? "What are you doing," said the officer. "I'm getting a cigarette. Why?" you said. You weren't doing anything wrong. There was no reason for the police to subject you to questioning. Even if they were curious, a simple "I'm getting a cigarette. Why?" would have sufficed. I am not quite sure what you meanabout not being able to find the cigarette. You mean that you were searching all over the car as if you were burglarizing it? The cop did not need to search the car. They can undoubtedly get away with it, under the pretense that he suspected you were burglarizing the car and he was searching for your burglary tools, etc. (yes, even though you had the keys). There was still no reason for you to admit the weed was yours.What was the cop going to do, go search the club for your friend for a little marijuana?! And by the way, if the marijuana was yours, then you had a right to be in the car, right? So, there was no legal basis for asearch without a warrant, right? You still have not learned Rule Number One: DON'T TALK TO THE POLICE. Don't make admissions. Don't put your foot in your mouth.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/8/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    In your summary you state that the police searched your friends car and found marijuana which you admitted was yours. That was a big mistake. The officer had no right to search the vehicle and neither you or your fiend would have had a problem having the charges dismissed. If the police ask you questions all you have to tell them is your name and possibly show them ID. If they ask more than that you should insist on having an attorney appointed or call your attorney and ask that all questioning stop. You will be the one in a hundred that was smart enough to not hand your constitutional rights over to the police simply because they threatened you, made promises, or offered to "help you out if you cooperate". Only stupid people confess or give statements...smart people remain silent no matter what the police say or do..no matter whether you are guilty or innocent.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 9/8/2011
    The Law Office of Cindy Barton
    The Law Office of Cindy Barton | Cindy Barton
    Before they can search a car the police need either probable cause (they have a reason to believe that a crime was committed or is being committed involving the car) or someone gives them permission.I don't know from your question if they asked you if they could search the car, or if they had reason to believe you were breaking the law.(Could they have smelled MJ before they searched.It does sound from the brief question that the search may have been without probable cause or permission and maybe suppressed.Good Luck.
    Answer Applies to: Utah
    Replied: 9/8/2011
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C.
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C. | Roy L. Reeves
    STUPID. There, I said it, do not ever admit it is yours. The search may or may not be suppressed with these facts. If suppressed you will get away but it is going to cost you dearly in legal fees, and future annoyance - cops have memories, you may beat this one on a technicality but if you do, plan on the cops remembering you, they can and will dot the "i" and cross the "t" next time.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Roianne H. Conner
    Law Office of Roianne H. Conner | Roianne Houlton Conner
    Based on the facts and circumstances they did not have the right to search the car.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Hess & Schubert
    Hess & Schubert | Ted Hess
    1. Whether the police can search a car does not depend on the presence or absence of the owner. 2. In this case, the police may have suspected that you were trespassing in, or about to steal, the car. In that case, they can briefly detain you and question you. (You do not have to answer their questions.) 3. Once you disclaimed ownership of the car, your Fourth Amendment privacy interests were not violated; the owner's were. Thus, you do not have "standing" to suppress the fruit of the search.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    Each circumstance involving a search of an auto will hinge on very specific facts to determine if the police have the authority to search without a warrant. Usually the police search and let the lawyers sort out the legality of the search. Most often, the defendant will not pursue the matter if it costs him money. So, I cannot tell you with the facts you have stated whether the search is permissible or not. An experienced attorney will need to check into the facts.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    It doesn't matter. When the container of weed was found and you admitted it was yours, any claim of an illegal search was lost. Controlled substances found outside the curtilege of the home is not subject to the exclusionary rule under the Michigan Constitution.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Wallin & Klarich: A Law Corporation
    Wallin & Klarich: A Law Corporation | Paul Wallin
    A police officer must have probable cause to search any vehicle. From your facts it doesn't appear they had probable cause to search the vehicle. This would mean that your experienced criminal defense attorney could bring under PC 1538.5 to attempt to suppress the evidence that was found in the vehicle. These motions are complicated and will depend upon what the police testify to and what you testify to as well.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Richard Williams
    Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
    Police officers have more authority to search a car than most other places. Whether or not they have authority to do so isa case by case basis. They would require either reasonable suspicion or permission to search. If the car was not your car you may not have standing to challenge the search.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    The police cannot conduct a search with either a warrant or the owner's consent. You should seek the advise of an attorney as to whether this was a valid search.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Healan Law Offices
    Healan Law Offices | William D. Healan, III
    You have the right to remain silent. Next time, exercise that right.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Shane Law Office
    Shane Law Office | Robert J. Shane
    The search of your friend's car by the police was illegal. In order for the search to be legal, the police would need to have either consent to search the car or probable cause to believe the car contained evidence of a crime. Under the facts of your case, the police did not have either grounds to justify a legal car search. I would advise you challenge the car search by hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney to file a motion to suppress the use of the evidence based on an illegal search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. If the court grants the suppression motion, the marijuana possession charge against you will be dismissed.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    Yes.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 6/7/2013
    Law Offices of Martina A. Vigil, PC
    Law Offices of Martina A. Vigil, PC | Martina A. Vigil
    If the officers did not have a warrant to search the vehicle and you did not consent to the search, the search is presumably invalid. However, if the officers smelled weed, that gives them the authority to search.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law | Gary Moore
    It was an unlawful search, violating the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The right question is whether he can do it lawfully. No. Can he do it. Of course, he is wearing a gun. You need to assert your rights in Court. You need a lawyer to do this.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    First of all, you were completely foolish to have shown the cops the keys. Now that you've made that mistake, you need to hire an attorney to explore a 4th Amendment / 1538.5 motion to challenge the search & seizure.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    Due to the exigency of how quickly a car can move away, all the police need to search a car is probable cause that they will find some sort of contraband. Probable Cause can be based on a number of things. You need to have an experienced criminal defense attorney review the police report to see if there was valid probable cause or to search for any other errors that could get the charges dismissed or reduced.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Beaulier Law Office
    Beaulier Law Office | Maury Beaulier
    Challenging the validity of a search may often result in the suppression of evidence resulting from the search. Whether or not a search is valid, or whether arguments exist that it was a violation of the fourteenth amendment and State constitutional protections requires a full review of the facts of the case. Accordingly, you would be wise to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. As a general rule, law enforcement may not make a search without a valid warrant supported by probable cause. There are, however, numerous warrant exceptions including cases where contraband is in plain sight, where the search is related to officer safety, or where exigent circumstances exist supported by additional probable case. Running VIN numbers would certainly be suspect where the officers were on the premises related to an arrest warrant and where the person was not in the vehicle. The search would require manipulating the vehicle by opening doors and locating the Vin numbers manually. In such a case, it would seem that strong arguments exist to challenge the search as unconstitutional.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Kathryn L. Hudson
    Law Office of Kathryn L. Hudson | Kathryn L. Hudson
    No, that was an illegal search and seizure. The law prior to 2009 used to allow the search of a vehicle incident to a legal traffic stop but that changed with Arizona v Gant. Now, unless there are exigent circumstances such as the suspect being able to reach a weapon or destroy evidence, the police absent consent must have a search warrant to search the car. Also, the search must be connected for the reason the suspect was stopped and detained. In your case the car was parked so there was no traffic related pretext. You should retain an attorney and fight the charge on Constitutional grounds.
    Answer Applies to: Arkansas
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    The Roden Law Firm, PLC
    The Roden Law Firm, PLC | Gerald Roden
    A police officer may not search a vehicle without permission. If however, the police office sees drugs in plain view, he many search the vehicle.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    You had no expectation of privacy in you friend's car. It wasn't your car. I think that the charge will stick.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Offices of David L. Smith
    Law Offices of David L. Smith | David Lee Smith
    Search and Seizure issues can be complicated.Under these facts the officers probably did not have reason to search the vehicle.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Miller & Harrison, LLC
    Miller & Harrison, LLC | David Harrison
    Sounds like an odd circumstance + maybe illegal search. You should get the police report + then discuss it with a lawyer who can do a real analysis after seeing the report + talking to you.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Edward J. Blum
    Law Office of Edward J. Blum | Edward J. Blum
    Obviously, they can search the car. The question is whether the search will stand up in court. I think not. They need probable cause to search the car, in your case I can't find anything to give them probable cause. You were committing no crime.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    A police officer needs probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. If he has that he can search without the owner being present or without the owners permission. Check the report to find out what the officer putdown as probable cause.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C.
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C. | Dennis Roberts
    Get your friend to sign a declaration saying that the weed isn't yours, it is his. He needs to put in his address and phone number. If youhave a public defender make sure he/she gets this note.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Betts Legal Services
    Betts Legal Services | Shawn M. Betts
    If the officer had a legal reason to approach you and saw something that gave him reasonable suspicion of something illegal, then he could search without consent. In most other circumstances however the search would be illegal.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    If the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a crime may have been committed, was about to be committed or was being committed at that time, he could have grounds to search the vehicle, with ot without your consent. The standard is much more lax in vehicle cases than in a place of residence, where they would need a warrant in most cases, to search premises.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    D'Andrea Law | Kathy D'Andrea
    A police officer needs probably cause to search a vehicle without the owner's permission. Based on the information provided it seems likely that this was an illegal search.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of David Baum
    Law Office of David Baum | David M. Baum
    Yes, under certain circumstances, including, but not limited to, if there is probable cause to base the search, or if the officer obtains consent from the person in control of vehicle.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    Based only on your representations, search was illegal Hire an attorney.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law | Mark Thiessen
    Search and seizure law is very complicated and you will need a great attorney with lots of knowledge and experience in drug cases. From just what you say, he cannot grab your keys and if it's not your car then you do not have authority to consent to searching it. But you really need the officers side to see the loop holes.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    John Segelbaum, P.S.
    John Segelbaum, P.S. | John Segelbaum
    In the absence of a search warrant or consent, the police need probable cause to believe evidence of a crime will be found in the car. They will probably say they smelled the odor of marijuana from outside the car. The fact the owner of the car was not present is irrelevant.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Office of Joe Dane
    Law Office of Joe Dane | Joe Dane
    Even though you're looking at an infraction (assuming it was less than an ounce), you still may have a valid motion to suppress the evidence against you based on an illegal search. Your lawyer will have to examine all the police reports and evidence in order to fully assess the situation.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Law Offices of Andrew Bouvier-Brown
    Law Offices of Andrew Bouvier-Brown | Andrew J. Bouvier-Brown
    Your question is more complicated than can properly be answered by email. The abbreviated answer would be "probably not," but the practical reality is that police frequently conduct searches that would otherwise be completely unlawful and "get away with it" all the time. They simply invent phony grounds for having "probable cause" to search a vehicle *after* having conducted the search. In short, what actually happened won't matter nearly as much as what the police SAY happened. In the future, never speak to the police about such matters. Admitting the marijuana was yours did nothing to further your legal defense and probably did not curry any favor with the police. It just made it easier to prosecute you.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/7/2011
    Watkins Law Office
    Watkins Law Office | Bob Watkins
    Sounds like a warrantless search without consent. If you have the keys you have control of the car and may have an ability to give consent regardless of whether it is your car or not. But it sounds like you didn't consent? A Motion to Suppress may be warranted. If you win the motion, the police lose the evidence and the case.
    Answer Applies to: New Hampshire
    Replied: 9/7/2011
Click to View More Answers:
12 3 4 5 6 7 8 Free Legal QuestionsConnect with a local attorney