Search warrants are an important privacy protection provided by the Fourth Amendment. Ohio residents often expect this law to protect them from unlawful searches and privacy violations by police. There are situations, however, when police may search a vehicle without a warrant. Determining whether a vehicle search was legal or not is an important part of many criminal cases.
Unlike with the search of residences, the court generally gives law enforcement greater leeway to conduct warrantless vehicle searches. This is primarily due to the understanding that people do not expect as much privacy in their car compared to in their home. That said, an officer must still provide a valid and explicable reason for conducting a search. If the driver gives the officer consent to search, then a warrant is not required. The officer may request the consent. The officer may also have probable cause as outlined in the law to conduct a search or they may have a reason to fear for their safety. They also have the authority to conduct a warrantless search if the search is related to an arrest.
Impounded vehicles are also entirely open to a warrantless search. Officers may search an impounded vehicle for any reason and may conduct as thorough a search as they deem fit.
Proving that a vehicle search was illegal can be difficult. It is often the word of the driver against the word of the officer. A criminal defense attorney may be able to provide guidance on how laws related to searches and warrants may contribute to a client’s defense. If a search is deemed illegal, then evidence collected in that search may be rendered inadmissible in court.