When do police officers have the right to search passengers in a car in California? 12 Answers as of January 30, 2011

When do the police have a legal right to search passengers in one's car?

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The Law Office of Sam Salhab
The Law Office of Sam Salhab | Samer Salhab
There are very few times in which a police officer can justify a search of a vehicle passenger without a warrant. Consult a lawyer to talk about your chances of potentially beating the case.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 1/30/2011
Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider
Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider | Peter Goldscheider
Broad question but generally when they have probable cause to believe there is contraband or evidence of an established crime on their person or somewhere in the car to which they would have had recent access, or incident to their arrest for a custodial offense (one where you can be taken to jail) or where they have been lawfully frisked and the cop comes across something he believes is contraband or a weapon.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 1/28/2011
The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
This is a very tough question because there are many potential circumstances where a person in a vehicle may be in contact with law enforcement. In some of those situations it would e appropriate for the police to search the passenger. Some of the occasions when it might be acceptable for the officer to search a passenger, there may be limits to the type and nature of a search. A more direct and specific answer could be provided were the specific facts relating to the detention and search made available.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 1/28/2011
Law Offices of Ryan P. Murphy
Law Offices of Ryan P. Murphy | Ryan P. Murphy
Generally, this question usually comes up after they consented to the search. This means that the officers requested to search the passenger and the passenger said yes. If the passengers have "search" terms set by the court or they were arrested for something else, the officers can search the individual. Other than generalities, I would need more facts to fully evaluate this issue. Should you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact my office at your earliest convenience.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 1/28/2011
Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
To search any one the police need probable cause. For a pat down they need a reasonable suspicion that a person is armed and is a danger to the officer or others. Other searches depends on the facts.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 1/28/2011
    The Law Offices of Robert L. Driessen
    The Law Offices of Robert L. Driessen | Robert L. Driessen
    This is not just a simple answer but typically it will be with consent or if their is another reason such as plain view.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 1/27/2011
    Law Office of Joseph A. Katz
    Law Office of Joseph A. Katz | Joseph A. Katz
    The law has seesawed vertiginously on this issue since the late '90's. The Legislature and particularly the Courts have steadily eroded our privacy rights and protections against unlawful search and seizure for years. Law enforcement has broad power to search upon stopping an automobile. There are many exceptions that allow them to expand their searches to a greater and greater extent. They have long been allowed to search anywhere within the "wingspan" of the driver. I believe that the current state of the law is that a passenger has a general right against a warrant less search or search without probable cause. That is, just because the driver is on probation and the cops are going to search the car, does not mean that the passenger has to allow a search of his or her body, or his or her purse (the cops will probably search any backpack or purse in the car anyway, if they think they have even a semi-plausible basis to do so). Few people are aware that they can refuse a search, and fewer still exercise their rights, as law enforcement will often search anyway,and then lie about having permission, or will fabricate some trumped-up probable cause. Or, they'll intimidate the suspect into answering questions (you don't have to say anything at all, but it is wise to give your name and ID) and submitting to a search.It happens every day, in every city. 'JUST SAY NO'. Politely. Bell's Compendium is a reliable source on this issue. Also, any of several articles by Mr. Michael ('Captain Motion') Kennedy, certainly one of the preeminent legal scholars of search and seizure issues in California.

    So, if something illegal was found on your friend, or in her purse, for example (a common scenario), he or she should have his or her Attorney file a Penal Codesection 1538.5 'Motion to Suppress Evidence'. On a related note, spread the word to everyone you know that no one has to submit to Field Sobriety Tests after a stop for suspected drunk driving. You do not have answer questions. You have to give a blood or breath test. That is all.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 1/27/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    Three circumstances:

    1) They have a warrant
    2) There is probable cause (ie. they see a gun in the car, smell marijuana...etc.)
    3) You consent (oftentimes inadvertently)
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 1/27/2011
    Alanna D. Coopersmith, Attorney at Law
    Alanna D. Coopersmith, Attorney at Law | Alanna D. Coopersmith
    The police don't have the right to search passengers' clothing and belongings just because they've pulled the driver over for a traffic violation.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 1/27/2011
    Nelson & Lawless
    Nelson & Lawless | Terry Nelson
    You can expect it to happen any time there is probable cause, or when their safety is in issue. The courts have held they have broad discretion to do it almost any time.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 1/27/2011
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C.
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C. | Dennis Roberts
    They have to establish independent probable cause to search them. The big issue is, did they find anything? If not, no harm, no foul.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 1/27/2011
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