Can police search my vehicle without a warrant? 56 Answers as of June 02, 2013

I left the scene of an accident. The police found me later and I told them that I was the one in the accident. They impounded my car and searched it. Is that allowed without a warrant?

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Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan
Law Office of Geoffrey M. Yaryan | Geoffrey M. Yaryan
Cars that are impounded are search without a warrant for purposes of inventorying the property in the vehicle. This is done because the purpose supposedly is not to look for evidence that could be used against you.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 11/11/2011
Law Office of James Bordonaro
Law Office of James Bordonaro | James Albert Bordonaro
It depends on whether the search was for the purpose of inventory of the contents and if so, was the inventory done according to the policies on file with police depart.
Answer Applies to: Kansas
Replied: 11/7/2011
Harrison & Harrison
Harrison & Harrison | Samuel Harrison
If they impounded the car they are usually required to conduct an inventory of the vehicle's contents; which means they have to search it.
Answer Applies to: Georgia
Replied: 11/2/2011
Ruiz Law Group, P.C.
Ruiz Law Group, P.C. | Frances Ruiz
That depends on where they found the car and under what circumstances the search was conducted.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 11/2/2011
The Law Office of B. Elaine Jones
The Law Office of B. Elaine Jones | B. Elaine Jones
Yes there are certain circumstances where the police can search your vehicle without a warrant. One of those circumstances is a search incident to arrest. Although you didn't say, I am assuming you were placed under arrest for leaving the scene of accident. Since that is a crime, and you likely were arrested, the search was conducted incident to arrest.
Answer Applies to: Florida
Replied: 11/2/2011
    Cynthia Henley, Lawyer
    Cynthia Henley, Lawyer | Cynthia Henley
    Yes. They could search it at the scene to determine the owner and if the car was impounded, they must do an inventory search of the vehicle before turning it over to towing.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 11/2/2011
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law | Mark Thiessen
    Yes, they can search after impound it for inventory. But sounds like a classic wheel witness issue.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 11/2/2011
    Law Offices of James A Bates
    Law Offices of James A Bates | James A Bates
    Normally, yes. It is called an impound search. Whatever they find is fair game. There are a few exceptions.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/2/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    Yes.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 6/2/2013
    Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC
    Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC | Jacob Peter Sartz IV
    I'd recommend you retain a lawyer to assist you with this matter. Speaking generally, yes, in certain circumstances the police may search and impound a vehicle without a warrant. Ultimately, whether a search was legal is an issue for a properly filed motion to suppress. If this motion, filed by the defense, is successful, any seized evidence may be excluded from being admitted at trial. Ultimately, it depends on the circumstances.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 11/2/2011
    The Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann
    The Law Offices of Christopher J. McCann | Christopher J. McCann
    There is authority that allows for them to impound the vehicle if it was used in a crime. However, depending on the circumstances, they might need to get a warrant to search it. In some situations, though, police have "inventory policies" in effect that allow them to search any car impounded for "safety purposes." You need to consult with a lawyer as to the specifics.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/2/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    A vehicle can be searched for a number of reasons, safety, search incident to arrest, inventory search, are some of the valid reasons, IN your case, it is likely that any search would be an inventory search. In short, yes, a vehicle can be searched without a warrant. I hope that this was helpful.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 11/2/2011
    Law Office of Nixon Ayemi | Nixon Ayeni
    You have a limited right of privacy in a vehicle because vehicle are mobile and evidence can be destroyed, but an attorney will be able to pull your case file and advise you better.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 11/2/2011
    Law Firm of Martin & Wallentine
    Law Firm of Martin & Wallentine | Jerry Lee Wallentine Jr.
    Normal yes, police do not always require a warrant to do a search. While the 4th Amendment is supposed to protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures, there are exceptions to the requirement of a warrant. For example, the officer may search a vehicle incident to an arrest or if he has probable cause. Additionally, a car will often be searched after an arrest as part of the vehicle inventory. There must be a case specific evaluation done to see if there is a valid suppression issue.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Richard Williams
    Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
    There are exceptions to a search warrant requirement when a car is involved. The police likely impounded your car for evidence or processing and took an inventory of the car if they did this no warrant was needed.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Robert Mortland
    Robert Mortland | Law Office of Robert Mortland
    Yes. Given these circumstances, it appears that the police lawfully arrested you for a hit and run. After they arrested you, they had to impound your vehicle. The searched the vehicle pursuant to an inventory search. You could attempt to file a PC 1538.5 motion to suppress but it appears that the police conduct was lawful.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    The police can search an automobile under several exceptions to the warrant requirement. One exception is for "inventory" searches, which most departments do as a routine search when impounding a car, in order to inventory the contents so that there is a record of the contents for future use. Any contraband items found during an inventory search can be used to prosecute a crime.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Palumbo and Kosofsky
    Palumbo and Kosofsky | Michael Palumbo
    Yes that is legal.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 6/2/2013
    Law Offices of Paula Drake
    Law Offices of Paula Drake | Paula Drake
    Since you admitted to the hit and run the car can be impounded as evidence in the crime. They can do an impond search without a warrant. Did they find anything on the search that could result in other charges? You may need to consult an attorney before things get worse.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Charles J. Block
    Law Office of Charles J. Block | Charles J. Block
    Only of the police routinely do inventory searches when they impound cars. If not, the Police should be required to obtain a warrant.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S.
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S. | Steve Freeborn
    If what they found was "in plain view" then the search was proper. If, for example, what they found was in the trunk of the car, out of site, then they should have obtained a search warrant, especially if they had already impounded the car because the vehicle was now "in custody" and "in their control", and therefore there was no likelihood that the "evidence" would be taken or destroyed.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Gonzalez Law Associates P.C.
    Gonzalez Law Associates P.C. | Carlos Gonzalez
    Yes, as part of the arrest it is permissible.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly | Brendan M. Kelly
    Anytime a vehicle is impounded the car is searched to protect everyone from claims regarding loss of items in the car.
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    Upon impounding your car, the police can conduct an impound search of the vehicle.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C.
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C. | Roy L. Reeves
    An inventory is not a search per se. There are new rules on car searches, but I don't know that it has been extended to inventory searches. Arizona v. Gant is the controlling case, but there are a lot of facts not presented here that affect the answer.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    DeVito & Visconti, PA
    DeVito & Visconti, PA | John E DeVito
    If the charge is Leaving the Scene after Causing Property Damage, the police are stretching there powers to search your car and impound your car. The police had the right to arrest you for the crime and to search the car for "fruits" or evidence of the crime you committed. Technically the only fruits of leaving the scene is your car as the damage to your car may be consistent with the damage to the other vehicle. The police can take photos of your car, they can write in there police report that the damage to your car was consistent with the damage to the other vehicle; but, I have never seen a situation where the police impounded the vehicle. It is worth engaging an attorney to agrue this matter on your behalf.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Giannini Law Office, PC
    Giannini Law Office, PC | Robert Giannini
    Was someone killed or injured in the accident? There are several possible justifications for the police to impound the car. In example, if there was a death or serious injury then they might be able to hold the car as evidence of the crime. Hit & run is a serious driving offense that can cause you to lose your license. If there was a death or serious injury they can charge you with a felony that could result in years of prison.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    The police need your consent or a warrant to search your vehicle unless they make an arrest. In that case they can impound your car and perform an "inventory search" to identify the property in the vehicle and safeguard them. If they follow their policy of inventory search and do not use it as an excuse to make a warrant-less search the evidence found can be used at trial. Your attorney can run a suppression hearing and try to show that it was not an inventory search and that the evidence should be suppressed. If they did not find contraband or evidence of a crime then the issue is moot.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Michael Breczinski
    Michael Breczinski | Michael Breczinski
    They could impound your vehicles because it was involved in a crime and they can search it incident to it's getting impounded.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of James A Schoenberger
    Law Office of James A Schoenberger | James A Schoenberger
    No. If the vehicle was impounded, a search warrant must be obtained. Items in plain view, however, can be "seized" without a warrant.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    If a car is determined to be abandoned, the police can and will have the vehicle towed. Once in police custody, the police can perform what is called an "inventory search" of the vehicle for safety purposes which is legal as long as they are in lawful possession of your vehicle at the time it is brought in. It really is of no consequence or concern unless they found something incriminating. If that is the case, have an experienced criminal attorney review the case to determine if the search was valid.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    Yes they can, because you gave them probable cause. By talking and saying that you were the one involved in the accident, that gave rise to probable cause for further action incidental to the lawful detention.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Offices of Louis M. Leibowitz, LLC
    Law Offices of Louis M. Leibowitz, LLC | Louis Leibowitz
    If the police impound a car, under certain circumstances they can do an "inventory search" of your car without a warrant. You should speak to an attorney about whether your circumstance fits within that exception to the warrant requirement.
    Answer Applies to: Maryland
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Betts Legal Services
    Betts Legal Services | Shawn M. Betts
    If you admitted you were in the accident and left the scene, the police do not need a warrant to search the vehicle if they are investigating the accident.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Tracey S. Sang
    Law Office of Tracey S. Sang | Tracey Sang
    There are many circumstances that allow for a warrantless search; most of them have to do with the risk of destruction or loss of evidence if a warrant must be obtained. That said, if the car was impounded then, by definition, there was no risk of you destroying any evidence. However, an "inventory search" on an impounded car is one of the standard exceptions to the warrant requirement. So, the bottom line is that your attorney can try to challenge the warrantless search but will most likely not prevail.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Richard Southard
    Law Office of Richard Southard | Richard C Southard
    Yes. Once they impound a car, they are allowed to do a search without a warrant so that they can protect themselves from claims that items from the car were stolen while it was being held as evidence. It is known as an inventory search.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    bark & karpf
    bark & karpf | peter bark
    Once the police seize the car they are permitted to conduct an inventory search of the vehicle, provided they follow the rules for an inventory search.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Ronald Aronds, LLC
    Law Office of Ronald Aronds, LLC | Ronald Aronds
    No, they cannot search an impounded car without a warrant.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Fairlie & Lippy, P.C.
    Fairlie & Lippy, P.C. | Steven Fairlie
    It would depend on what they had probable cause to believe was in your car. If they have probable cause to believe that something which is readily destroyable, and is evidence of the crime, is in your car, then they can likely search without a warrant under the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement. It would be safer for them to get the warrant but most Pennsylvania Judges approve of car searches without a warrant when exigent circumstances exist.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    The Law Offices of Victor J Mazzaraco
    The Law Offices of Victor J Mazzaraco | Victor J Mazzaraco
    Yes, a search after impounding a car is typical, routine behavior. The theory is the police have to know what was in the car in case the owner claims he had valuables in it that are no longer there, and holds the police liable for theft.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    Yes, the police may impound a vehicle involved in a hit and run. They have a duty to inventory the vehicle as part of the impound. If they found evidence, it was probably legally found.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Baner and Baner
    Baner and Baner | Jonathan Baner
    Depends on the circumstances and the scope of the search. A police inventory search following an arrest and impoundment is sufficient and broad in scope for purposes of inventorying the car's contents. It must not be a sham impoundment (i.e. they pull over a suspected drug dealer for not using signal and then impound the car for purposes of searching for drugs but with a wink and a nod calling it an inventory).
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Edward J. Blum
    Law Office of Edward J. Blum | Edward J. Blum
    It is probably legal as an administrative search.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    An inventory search, after a lawful arrest is valid and legal even without the existence of a search warrant.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    What they did was considered an "inventory" and not a search. Yes, they can do it.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Michael Edwards, Attorney at Law
    Michael Edwards, Attorney at Law | Michael Edwards
    Yes, they can. Once you are arrested, they can search your car based upon a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement.
    Answer Applies to: Utah
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    Any time the police take property they have to do an inventory search of the property. The official reason for this is to insure that everything that was a part of or in that property is there when it is returned. The real reason is to get around the need for the search warrant. Under the current case law the police have the right to search your car when it is impounded.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Rizio & Nelson
    Rizio & Nelson | John W. Bussman
    That is allowed for several reasons, but it is a moot point unless they found contraband or evidence of a crime and they're now trying to introduce that evidence against you. If you're only accused of hit & run and nothing illegal was found in your car, then the search is of no consequence.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    The Law Offices of Jaime Cowan
    The Law Offices of Jaime Cowan | Jaime Cowan
    Yes it is considered an inventory search and they do not need a warrant for that.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Laguzzi Law, P.C.
    Laguzzi Law, P.C. | Carina Laguzzi
    Are you sure they didn’t get a warrant? If they impounded your car, they may have gotten a warrant. But yes they generally would need a warrant. Talk to your attorney about a possible motion to suppress. Hire an experienced criminal defense attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Offices of Kenneth Wincorn P.C.
    Law Offices of Kenneth Wincorn P.C. | Kenneth Wincorn
    If they can legally impound it they can search it.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    Law Offices of Elliott Zarabi
    Law Offices of Elliott Zarabi | Elliott Zarabi
    Yes, they can search your car incident to a lawful arrest or search your car once they impound it when they are doing an inventory search.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    Could be. There are seaches incident to arrest [were you in the car when arrested?] and there are inventory searches if they are legally towing the car.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 11/1/2011
    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.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 11/1/2011
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