The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unlawful search and seizure, and searching vehicles without a warrant violates it. There could be some cases in San Jose, California, where the police do not need warrants to search. Some states give police officers more power to search vehicles since drivers do not expect a high level of privacy as with their homes.
Exceptions to Searching Without a Warrant
Police shows on TV may give the impression officers can search vehicles anytime and for any reason. While some searches do not need a warrant, they have to stay within the limits of the Fourth Amendment. Officers may search vehicles if they have probable cause which means reasonable grounds.
They have a right to search a vehicle if the driver gives them permission, they believe a crime has been committed or for their safety. A vehicle can be stopped if an officer believes the driver violates traffic laws. The officer would likely still need a warrant to search.
Impounded vehicles give an officer a right to search a vehicle. Police officers may search locked compartments, trunks and containers. It also doesn’t matter why the vehicle got towed. That still doesn’t mean they have the power to tow a vehicle to conduct searches without a warrant.
The Supreme Court sets a means test to determine an expectation of privacy. The person expects the place to be private and the expectation of privacy must be reasonable.
For example, most people would consider homes private. However, if criminal evidence is visible on the lawn, it could be seized without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment only applies to government workers and not private individuals such as security guards.
Illegal searches prohibit evidence from being used at trial that could prove innocence or prevent fair trials. A criminal defense attorney may be able to help the driver challenge the search they feel is illegal.