probable cause to search car

What Gives the Police Probable Cause To Search My Car?

It’s critical to have a fair understanding of road rules and how to react if you get pulled over by a law enforcement officer in Alabama. In fact, you should understand your rights well before you might face this type of encounter. A dedicated criminal defense attorney in Alabama can help you understand whether your rights were violated during a police search while you were behind the wheel.

What is Probable Cause in Alabama?

Probable cause means the police officer has reasonable justification to search your car. They should have a firm and reasonable belief that they will find evidence of a crime in your car when pulling you over.

Probable cause is largely subjective. It can be widely interpreted to cover almost anything. For instance, the police officer can become suspicious of illegal activity if you are speeding, the taillights are out, or you are weaving in and out of lanes, among other things.

It’s necessary to understand that speeding doesn’t necessarily indicate criminal activity. But if you act in a suspicious manner when the police officer pulls you over, it may be reason enough for the officer to search your vehicle.

You should take care to not elevate an already heightened situation with any undue hostility. This is even if you feel the hostility is warranted or if the officer reacts in an unprofessional manner.

Citizens are protected by the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution from unreasonable search and seizure when in their homes. This means that law enforcement needs to first obtain a search warrant. But where vehicles are concerned, police officers can routinely carry out a thorough search without obtaining a warrant first. All they need for this is probable cause.

There is more leniency when it comes to vehicles since there is a lower expectation of privacy in such cases. In addition, the standard of probable cause to search a vehicle is lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required by courts for a conviction.

Types of Probable Cause to Search a Vehicle in Alabama


The police can search your car if you give them consent or permission to do so. However, just because an officer asks you for permission, doesn’t make you legally obligated to provide it. They cannot necessarily search your vehicle unless the officer has legal grounds or a warrant.

Driver wingspan

The police are permitted to search within the wingspan of the driver. This is to ensure there are no objects or weapons which can be used to harm them. Allowing police officers to search the driver’s wingspan is based on practical reasons.

It’s to enable the police officers to perform their jobs with a modicum of safety. In fact, the officer can ask a driver or any other passenger to step out of the car as well, if they have reasonable suspicion that they may have a weapon or are a danger.

Exigent circumstances

Officers can search a vehicle in case of exigent circumstances without obtaining any warrant. Exigent means that an emergency or urgent situation is going on, which excuses the police from obtaining a regular warrant. For instance, the police can search a vehicle if they believe there is a ticking bomb inside. They won’t require a warrant in this case.

Warrant on probable cause

The police can either search you or your car if they have a warrant based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Hence, if the police acquire a search warrant based on the tip-off that there are illegal drugs with you, they will be legally allowed to search the vehicle as well.

Arrested driver

If a driver gets arrested, their vehicle is impounded. The police can lawfully conduct an inventory search of the vehicle when it is impounded. This is done for removing any inventory items from the car for safekeeping. If the police uncover evidence of a crime or contraband items, it will be considered lawfully obtained.

Subject to search and seizure

If the police officer notices something subject to search or seizure, they will have probable cause for searching you and your vehicle. For instance, if you have marijuana plants in your minivan while driving through Alabama, the police officer will be justified in seizing the marijuana if it is visible to the naked eye.

Stemming from this, this doesn’t mean that the police can go rummaging through boxes or backpacks. The item of seizure should be in plain view. The police are not allowed to explore and ferret out evidence.

You may think that law enforcement can search your vehicle anytime and anywhere, but this is not always the case. In fact, if the vehicle is not searched lawfully, the prosecutor won’t be allowed to use any evidence obtained against you.

Get Legal Representation from a Formidable Criminal Defense Lawyer

The experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Alsobrook Law Group have extensive legal knowledge and resources to challenge any illegally obtained evidence. Our attorneys will understand your legal situation, explain your rights, and present the strongest possible defense to have your charges dismissed or reduced.

To schedule your free consultation, call us at 334-737-3718 or fill out this online contact form.