“I Need to Search Your Car NOW!”

The following is a video transcript.

The Fourth Amendment

We have all heard of it, but what does it mean and how does it affect you?

The language of the Fourth Amendment reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Simply put, the Fourth Amendment stops government agents (usually the police) from searching or seizing a person without first establishing probable cause and securing a warrant from a judge.

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Unrestricted Search and Seizure

Before the Fourth Amendment came into being, Great Britain would use a legal instrument called a “Writ of Assistance” in the American colonies. These writs functioned as general search and seizure warrants. They had no requirement of what was or who was to be searched or seized. To make matters worse, they never expired and could be transferred from person to person.

These writs allowed the British government broad and general permission to interfere with the private lives of the colonists with no real restrictions. The British government could come and search whoever or whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted to.

Fourth Amendment Goals

The goal of the Fourth Amendment was to restrict government and provide security to Americans against this abuse. This is part of the “right of privacy” we as Americans enjoy. Today, in order for the government to search or seize something or someone, the general rule is, they must first obtain a warrant based upon probable cause from a neutral magistrate.

In Mapp v. Ohio the Supreme Court held that any evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment would not be admissible in court.

The Fourth Amendment Today

However, over the years courts have been granting more and more leniency on the admissibility of evidence, even if it could be argued that it is in violation of the Fourth Amendment. This is because the exceptions to the warrant requirement have almost completely swallowed the rule.

This is due in part to advancements in technology. The interpretation of the Fourth Amendment has been stretched to its limit for scenarios the Founders probably could not have imagined such as automobiles, computers, electronic mail, and phone metadata.

We have talked about the nearly endless list of ways police can search your car in the past, with the inventory and automobile exceptions, but it is important to know about other types of government encroachment on your right to privacy.

We see a recurring theme when it comes to this kind of governmental interference. A new technology emerges, law enforcement uses this technology, pushing the limits of the Fourth Amendment, and then the courts (sometimes) reign them in.

For example, there have been many cases dealing with cell phone searches. Up until very recently, the police would just search through someone’s cell phone without a warrant to see what they could find. The courts have now held that to search through someone’s cell phone, the police must first obtain a warrant.

Another example is the use of infrared. Essentially, police were using thermal imaging to look directly into a person’s house and could see people, fixtures within the home, or anything else that puts off a heat signature. Based upon what the police would see during that thermal search, they would then obtain a warrant for a physical search.

However, in Kyllo v. The United States, the Supreme Court held that the use of thermal image devices from a public vantage point to monitor a person’s home constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment and required a warrant. This is a fast-changing area of the law, and the courts will have to make decisions relating to the use of new technologies as they advance and whether they implicate the Fourth Amendment.

Your Rights

What you need to know: do not give up your Fourth Amendment rights. If an officer says he is going to conduct a search, invoke your rights and do not consent. They may search anyway, but at least now your attorney may be able to get that evidence thrown out in court.

If you have any questions about the Fourth Amendment, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with your Independent Program Attorney.

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Comment section

46 comments on ““I Need to Search Your Car NOW!”

  1. To those who ask “If you have nothing to hide, why not allow them to search”. Well, you never know what some jurisdictions consider illegal. Consider gun laws. Sure you MIGHT think you were following the law but many news reports show the fallacy there. I agree with the advice to NEVER give consent at anytime. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about by NOT giving consent.

  2. They don’t mention Fish & Wildlife Police who do not need a probable cause to search a vehicle. In fact I’ve been told by a former VT state trooper most state police will call F&W to circumvent needing a warrant. Just FYI

  3. For those of you curious about whether you should deny a search of your automobile the answer is always a resounding YES!! Its not about whether you have something to hide or not! Its about your RIGHTS! If you give them an inch they will take 10 miles; when a cop asks “do you have anything in your car I should be concerned about” even if you say NO it is considered an affirmation to search your car! You should always either NOT answer or say “do you suspect something officer?” And then tell them that you understand your 4th amendment rights; do not ever consent or answer an open and obviously leading question from them.

  4. In response to Bobby Lee Stepp’s comment that “if you aren’t doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear.” I used to think that too, but there are tons of ways a law-abiding citizen can fall into unnecessary hot water.

    Just one example: Did you know it’s a FEDERAL crime to have prescription pills (even if prescribed to you) that are not in their original pharmacy container with your printed name? Want to take a chance that prescription pill you lost between the seat cushions a few months ago doesn’t pop up while they are tearing your car apart?

    See also these articles on the web site https://www.uslawshield.com/police-search-warrant-car/ and https://www.uslawshield.com/search-consent/

  5. In response to Bobby Lee Stepp: Several years ago I loaned my car to buddy. I do not smoke and therefore rarely pull out the ashtray. 2 years after loaning him the car I was cleaning it out to sell it. When I went to clean the ashtray I found a dried up joint. Granted it was dried up and small but nonetheless an illegal substance. I was not aware he smoked weed. For 2 years this was in my car without my knowledge. Had the car been searched the weed would have been found. My point is that do you ever really know for certain what is in your car or home?

  6. “If you have nothing to hide what would you care if they looked into your vehicle!!”

    If you never consent to a search and there is no search, you will never be in a position to explain something found in a search. You may not know what someone else left in your car. A bad cop may plant something. Etc. If you refuse consent and the cop searches anyway, she must be able to state her probable cause ahead of time or get a warrant with it’s written limits.

    “What about road stop checkpoints for whatever reason, usually alcohol related. Isn’t this an unwarranted search?”

    Cops can stop traffic for a DUI check point and ask questions. But they can’t compel you to answer their questions, nor remove you, nor search your vehicle without either probable cause or your permission.

  7. Screw the cops, they are not our friends,do nt answer any questions without your. Lawyer present. Always invoke your rights.

  8. I’m hiding something alright, my right to be secure in my home or vehicle. I’ve seen overreach first hand, it’s nothing nice.

  9. I will always politely decline any request to search my vehicle or my effects. Simply put. If law enforcement feels a need to test the perverbeal water then I too should have that same need. After all it is my CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT.
    For every person who feels threatened by and gives into law enforcement that person contributes to weakening the foundation of the the constitution. For every person who refuses and stands firm that person strengthens the foundation of the constitution.

  10. One of the issues with giving up your fourth amendment rights is if they find something illegal other than what you think they might be looking for. These days, in some states your perfectly legal magazine might be illegal and you didn’t realize it. You would then be in trouble like you couldn’t imagine.

  11. Never consent to a search since the cop would probably plant evidence in ur vehicle our home anyway. In case he/ she tries that and u already said u didn’t consented, ur lawyer can toss it out whatever that cop planted in ur car or home.

  12. Bobby Lee Stepp: You may have given a ride to somebody who (unbeknownst to you) left some weed in your car. You are totally innocent and got nothing to worry about, right? This is just one example for you. Innocence never prevented people from going to jail or even death row. Don’t be a fool, Bobby…..

  13. @bobby Lee Stepp
    You totally missed the point…

  14. Bobby, it’s not as if a corrupt police officer does not exist. Especially vulnerable are people of various races, religions, or creeds the officer might have an issue with. So you see how an innocent person can be harmed– and that’s without pointing out that we all have a right to be left alone. I don’t understand how someone can grow up in America and not understand why we have a human right to be left alone when we’re not harming others. Would you be OK with police walking into your house whenever they wished?

  15. I see lots of questions, but NO ANSWERS. Because it is now evident this country has a TWO TIERED JUSTICE SYSTEM, I’m scared to death I will find myself on the BOTTOM TIER. Anything you can do to keep me within all levels of law enforcement is greatly appreciated.

  16. Are you sure there’s nothing illegal in your car? Do you have kids? Especially teens? Do you haul them and their friends? Do you do a detailed inspection after hauling a car full? No telling what might be left behind. To top it off, the cop might just plant a little something in the back seat to make your life interesting. NEVER allow the search!!

  17. I am a retired cop and proud of my service. Please do not consent to a search. Once in a great while a policeman comes along who will stretch the truth and be tempted to plant evidence in your car. The Fourth Amendment protects us from him.

  18. One of my colleagues agreed to a vehicle search. The police officer grabbed a screw driver and started tearing out trim panels and found nothing.

    Significant damage was done to this guy’s car.

    The officer then simply said “you can go”

    Lesson here is that searching is often destructive and you are stuck with fixing the damage

  19. That you have nothing to HIDE is irrelevant. The whole purpose of privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment is that you have nothing you desire or need to SHOW the cop who happens to pull you over.

  20. Bobby Lee Stepp: With respect: This is one of the most naive statements I hear regularly. You must not assume that the regularly overreaching government always has good intentions. Allowing government intrusion of this sort without a warrant is horribly dangerous to everyone’s rights. If they have probable cause, they can search. Absolutely not, if they don’t.

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