Do police have the right to take my car and search it if they are suspicious? 48 Answers as of July 08, 2013

My car was left parked on a legal street and someone saw my car moments before driving past a scene of a crime and told the police that they suspect my car was involved. Now I was never caught or arrested but the police towed my car and found stolen property in the trunk of the car. Did they have the right to take my car and charge me?

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Burdon and Merlitti
Burdon and Merlitti | Adam Van Ho
Unless the police had a warrant, then I do not believe that they had a right to take your car. You should talk to an attorney about possibly suppressing the evidence against you.
Answer Applies to: Ohio
Replied: 10/13/2011
Reeves Law Firm, P.C.
Reeves Law Firm, P.C. | Roy L. Reeves
Depends, did they have a warrant?
Answer Applies to: Texas
Replied: 6/11/2013
Law Office of Ernest T. Biando, LLC | Ernest Biando
Depends-police only need a "reasonable suspicion" to search a vehicle. I don't know all the facts so I cant provide an answer.
Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
Replied: 7/8/2013
Law Office of Tracey S. Sang
Law Office of Tracey S. Sang | Tracey Sang
If the evidence they received was reliable then, of course, they can do an investigation based on it.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 10/28/2011
Rudolph A. Serra, Attorney
Rudolph A. Serra, Attorney | Rudolph A. Serra
Your question says you were never "arrested" and then asks of they had the right to "charge" you. I assume this means you were not arrested for the crime that was driven past. I assume that you were charged based on the stolen property that was found. The police need a warrant unless there are "exigent circumstances." Since the car was identified as being involved in a crime and could be driven away - the police might be able to win the argument that they couldn't get a warrant. On the other hand, since they could leave an officer to watch the car or immobilize the car, they certainly could have gone to get a search warrant. If they did not, you might be able to get the evidence they found suppressed. Doing so would not be easy. You will need an experienced and effective criminal defense attorney.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 10/7/2011
    The McDonnell Law Firm, PLLC
    The McDonnell Law Firm, PLLC | Patrick J. McDonnell
    Your question does not have enough details to answer fully. However, the 4th Amendment to the Constitution protects us from "unreasonable" searches. Suspicion is not enough for the police to search. It must be based on "probable cause" which is a higher standard than mere suspicion. A search warrant issued by a judge would make the search a legal search. Did they have one? If not, there are some exceptions to the search warrant requirement. They may also have done an inventory search of your trunk if the car was legally towed for some other reason, which may also be legal. Regardless of the reason they were searching, if they find other contraband or evidence of a different crime, they may legally seize it. I would consult with an attorney to see if you have any suppression issues.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Reza Athari & Associates, PLLC | Armand Fried
    You may be able to challenge the search because the police need "probable cause" to search the car. Depending on the facts of the crime the police were informed you were involved in, their search may or may not have been proper. It depends on the facts of the case, and there is no general answer to your question beyond whether or not there was probable cause. If the search was not proper, any evidence found cannot be used against you, unless they can show that they would have obtained the evidence independently - which seems very unlikely in this case.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    If your car was legally parked and not violating any traffic regulations, they may not have had a right to tow and search it without a warrant. You should discuss this with a competent criminal defense attorney who may be able to file a motion to supress the evidence seized.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law | Gary Moore
    If the police had a search warrant issued upon a proper find of probable cause they actions were authorized and proper and the search will stand. If there was no search warrant or the search warrant was issued were there was no probable cause. the seizure of your vehicle and the search of same were improper and the evidence seized from the car which would be used against you at trial will be suppressed and your case dismissed.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    bark & karpf
    bark & karpf | peter bark
    Based upon the facts you give me, the police had no probable cause to tow and search your car. The evidence seized should be suppressed and the case dismissed, unless the police lie about the reason your car was towed.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Mercado & Hartung
    Mercado & Hartung | Stephanie Hartung
    The police would have to have very strong information to allow them to impound your car. It is necessary to know what information the police relied on to justify their actions. Possession of stolen property is a very serious charge and I recommend you speak with an attorney about your situation.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    The police, acting upon the tip that your car may have been involved in the commission of a crime, had a right to search your vehicle. If they had no reason to believe you MAY have been involved in committing a crime, then they had no right to search your car, or arrest you. Contact an attorney and discuss the possibility of filing a motion to quash your arrest and suppress the seizure of the stolen property found subsequent to an unlawful arrest.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Michael R. Nack, Attorney at Law
    Michael R. Nack, Attorney at Law | Michael R. Nack
    If they had probable cause to believe that the car was involved in a crime, then they probably have a good search. But, in any event, you need to hire the best criminal defense lawyer you can afford to represent you on this charge. If you are in my area, I might be able to offer my services for a reasonable fee. I have handled hundreds of criminal cases in the thirty-three years that I have been practicing law.
    Answer Applies to: Missouri
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly | Brendan M. Kelly
    The don't have a right to search it without a search warrant. A car that is parked legally can only be searched with permission or a search warrant. If the evidence is that the car was driven and a person ran leaving the car legally parked but locked it would still likely require a warrant. You really need to have a criminal defense attorney look at the facts and give you a more informed answer, but it appears to be an illegal search without a warrant.
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Night Life Lawyers
    Night Life Lawyers | Joshua Aldabbagh
    It does not sound like the police had probable cause to believe there was contraband in your vehicle. So unless your vehicle was obstructing a public road or in some other way in need of being towed, a motion to exclude the evidence should be filed in your case. You should consult with a criminal defense attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    You haven't given me enough facts. But it is possible that the seizure was legal. But you have a shot if they didn't get a warrant.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    They would have had to have probable cause to search and impound your vehicle. That probable cause would have had to be stated clearly in a police report somewhere in order to make the evidence stand up. Normally the police are required to get a search warrant but if they have probable cause, they do not need one for a vehicle as it is an "exigent circumstance" since they are so readily mobile. Have an experienced criminal attorney review the case for any errors that could get the charges reduced or dismissed.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Charles Regan Shaw, PLC
    Charles Regan Shaw, PLC | Charles R Shaw
    Sounds like probable cause. Your not actually admitting to having stolen property in the trunk of your car are you?
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/8/2013
    Law Offices of George Woodworth & Associates
    Law Offices of George Woodworth & Associates | George Woodworth
    It would depend upon whether the "someone saw my car moments before driving past" also saw something that would lead a Judge to believe that the car and you were involved in a crime. For example, if the "stolen property" was car radios/CD players etc. that were stolen that night, and the witness saw you near those cars.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Michael Anthony Wing, P.C.
    Michael Anthony Wing, P.C. | Michael Anthony Wing
    You pose an intriguing question. Without a warrant, a search is considered invalid. There do exist, however multiple exceptions. I recently won a motion to suppress for my client where the officers searched his car without a warrant, however in that case they found marijuana, and not "fruits of the crime" for which he was arrested which happened to be loitering. There is a 2009 US Supreme Court opinion out on this subject that breathes some life back into an almost dead Fourth Amendment. The case is Gant v Arizona if I recall correctly. It sounds like you need a lawyer. Feel free to schedule an appointment with me. Call my secretary to set the meeting if you are in the South Alabama area. I do charge hourly on criminal cases, so bring $150. If you cannot afford to hire your own lawyer, the court will appoint you counsel. Have them review the Gant case I mentioned above. Stay well.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    The Law Offices of Robert L. Driessen
    The Law Offices of Robert L. Driessen | Robert L. Driessen
    It is difficult to determine based on the information that you have provided but there seems to be issues here that your attorney will get straightened out.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    Hard to say. The witness who described your car may have provided sufficient probable cause for the initial search.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    For any search the police need probable cause. This probable cause is written up in a request for a search warrant and need to be signed by a judge for the warrant to become active. There are times when the police do not need a search warrant to conduct the search. One of these times is the search of an automobile. The theory is that it auto being mobile would be gone by the time the warrant was signed. The police still need probable cause that would stand up to the standards of a search warrant. In your case the probable cause what the eye witness statement that your car was involved in the crime.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Law Office of Joe Dane
    Law Office of Joe Dane | Joe Dane
    Before they can search without a warrant, they must have probable cause. Probable cause is enough facts and information to have a strong suspicion that the evidence they seek exists in the place they want to search. Cars have a little different analysis since they can move before a warrant can be obtained, but the towing from the street and subsequent search may be an issue. Search questions are very fact-specific, so a change in one detail may change the analysis. The only person in the position to evaluate this is your attorney since they will have access to the entire case (reports, statements of witnesses, search warrants, etc.). There may be an issue here that can lead to the suppression of the evidence located, but it's impossible to evaluate without all the details.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    The Zwiebel Law Firm, LLC
    The Zwiebel Law Firm, LLC | Elizabeth Zwiebel
    In most traffic situations, if the police suspect criminal activity by either "plain view" or other reasons, then they can search the car. Other ways they can search is by permission or what they term an inventory search when a vehicle is towed.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    You should hire an attorney to discuss the details. It seems that there was probable cause to search. However, there may have been a need to obtain a warrant. Whether or not a warrant was obtained may determine whether or not items found are admissible at any subsequent trial.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Michael Breczinski
    Michael Breczinski | Michael Breczinski
    It depends on exactly what the person said when they thought that the car was involved. You need an attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Betts Legal Services
    Betts Legal Services | Shawn M. Betts
    There would have to be a determination as to whether the police had an exception to the warrant requirements to seize and search your vehicle without your permission. The argument would be that even if the police suspected your vehicle was involved, given that they had seized it, they should not have searched it without obtaining a warrant first.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Law Office of Richard Southard
    Law Office of Richard Southard | Richard C Southard
    Whether or not the police had the right to search your car depends on the information that was told to them, its reliability, and any public safety concerns with respect to what they were searching for. Even if they can't legitimately justify their search, I wouldn't be surprised if they claim that you gave your consent.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law | Mark Thiessen
    Search and seizure law is hyper technical and NARC officers are some of the biggest liar. Seems like they shouldn't search your car, but they are going to lie on the stand. You need a skilled and experienced drug attorney and fight it with all you've got.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    D T Pham Associates, PLLC
    D T Pham Associates, PLLC | Duncan T Pham
    Yes.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 6/3/2013
    Cynthia Henley, Lawyer
    Cynthia Henley, Lawyer | Cynthia Henley
    To be a legal seizure of your vehicle, the police needed to get a warrant that would authorize them to tow the vehicle as well as search it. If you were charged, then your lawyer would look to see if the seizure of your car, search of your car and seizure of the times was authorized. If not, then results of the illegal action would be suppressed.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    Did the police have a warrant? Did your car appear abandoned?
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 7/8/2013
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    This is ultimately a legal question that cannot be answered quickly. The issue of whether there was an illegal search of the car will depend upon many variables. You may end up in a trial situation where your attorney challenges the search and the judge will have to decide the issue. If you are charged with a crime, you should consult with an attorney quickly as you want to preserve as many issues as possible. He will need to investigate all the facts surrounding the search.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Gutin and Wolverton
    Gutin and Wolverton | Harley Gutin
    They have to have more then a mere suspicion but in reality not much more.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Law Office of Charles J. Block
    Law Office of Charles J. Block | Charles J. Block
    The police would have had to get a warrant before they searched the car.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Law Offices of Lazaro Carvajal
    Law Offices of Lazaro Carvajal | Lazaro Carvajal
    Under the "plain view" rule, the police may search or look at anything that is plainly visible to the public. Now, to search a trunk or glove compartment requires probable cause. If the police have a legitimate reason o impound the car, they are allowed to conduct what is called an inventory of the vehicle. In your scenario, assuming the car was legally parked and the police had no legitimate reason to tow it, they could not search it without a search warrant. This would require very specific information provided by a reliable informant and it must be approved by a judge.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    The police need a warrant to search your vehicle, especially a locked trunk. Retain an attorney and do not talk to anyone, especially the police no matter what they promise or threaten. If they got a warrant to search your car it can be challenged in court by your attorney. If the police lacked probable cause to get the warrant the evidence can be suppressed. If you cannot afford an attorney Legal Aid will represent you, but you must not talk to anyone. Remember "Fish only get caught when they open their mouth". Life is about making good decisions. If you are a thief you will eventually get arrested, get a criminal record, and find it very difficult to get a job or get into a good school. Get a good education, work hard, and stay out of trouble and you can be a successful, productive and maybe even happy person. I have represented thousands of criminals and none of them were rich, successful, or happy.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S.
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S. | Steve Freeborn
    Perhaps. If the car was identified as being at the scene of the crime, then there was probable cause for the officers to seize the vehicle. I suspect they then obtained a search warrant prior to gong through the vehicle. You better get an attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 10/6/2011
    Palumbo and Kosofsky
    Palumbo and Kosofsky | Michael Palumbo
    Yes they did.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 6/3/2013
    Goolsby Law Office
    Goolsby Law Office | Richard Goolsby
    While no one can predict what might happen, we recommend that you retain a criminal lawyer ASAP to discuss your rights and options, including the right to contest this search. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 7/8/2013
    Baner and Baner
    Baner and Baner | Jonathan Baner
    Very fact intensive argument. If you get charged make sure to lawyer up before speaking with anyone.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 7/8/2013
    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: 10/5/2011
    Connell-Savela
    Connell-Savela | Jason Savela
    If they had a warrant, they can do just about anything with your car.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 10/28/2011
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    No. Based on your version of events.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 6/3/2013
    Law Office of Daniel K Martin
    Law Office of Daniel K Martin | Daniel K Martin
    If the report that your vehicle was involved was credible and believable then yes they can do that. Courts have ruled that people have a reduced expectation of privacy in vehicles. You should contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss a suppression motion.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/5/2011
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