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When can Tennessee police legally search your vehicle?

Did the police officer have a legal right to search your vehicle? Many people assume that they must allow an officer to search their property. However, the Fourth Amendment protects you against unreasonable search and seizure of personal property. When are police officers able to search your vehicle? What happens if they find illegal items, such as drugs, in your possession during an unlawful search?


When can police officers search your vehicle?

Officers may lawfully search your vehicle if:

  1. You give the officer permission to search your vehicle.
  2. The officer has probable cause to search your vehicle.
  3. The officer reasonably believes that they are in danger, and must search your vehicle for their own protection.
  4. You have been arrested by the police.

Do you have to let an officer search your vehicle?

If an officer asks to search your vehicle, you do not have to say yes. They only have a right to search your vehicle if one of the four conditions above applies.

If none of the four conditions apply, it is illegal for an officer to search without your permission. Drugs, weapons or other illegal items found during an illegal search may be challenged in court. The evidence may not be used against you.

What if the officer can see drugs or other illegal materials through the car window?

If illegal materials are in “plain view,” an officer may legally seize the items without a search warrant. Seeing the items also gives the officer probable cause to search the rest of your vehicle. They may open your truck, glove compartments and look for illegal items throughout the rest of the car. However, they can only search for illegal items related to what they already found.

What should you do if an officer asks to search your vehicle?

It is scary to stand up to a police officer. You may worry that refusing a police officer’s request could lead to arrest, or make it appear that you have something to hide. However, it is in your best interest to refuse a search of your vehicle. You are not doing anything wrong in refusing search. When you refuse search, you are exercising your Fourth Amendment rights under the US Constitution.

If you believe that an officer has illegally searched your vehicle, consider contacting an attorney. An attorney can help you determine whether the officer was acting within the law. If it was an illegal search, an attorney can look into making the court throw out charges for illegal items that were found during the search.

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Covington Office
131 West Liberty Ave.
P.O. Box 944
Covington, TN 38019

Phone: 901-410-0689
Fax: 855-404-6949
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Benton, AR 72015

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