Legal Police Car Searches: Can The Police Search My Car?

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Police are entitled to pull you over when you are driving a vehicle.

Police are not entitled to search your car when they have pulled you over. Police may ask you for permission to search your vehicle.

If you agree, this is called a search by consent.

You can refuse to allow Police to search your vehicle.

The police are not permitted to use force to search your car. Police can however search your vehicle in certain circumstances without a warrant. For Police to use this power to search they must have a reasonable suspicion. The factors that can amount to a reasonable suspicion are defined within the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act.

Car Searches without a Warrant

A police may, without a warrant, stop, search and detain a vehicle if the police officer suspects on reasonable grounds that any of the following circumstances exist;

  • The vehicle contains or a person in the vehicle has in their stolen or unlawfully obtained;
  • The vehicle is being, or was, or may have been, used in or connection with the commission of a relevant offence;
  • The vehicle contains anything used or intended to be used in or in connection with the commission of a relevant offence;
  • The vehicle is in a public place or school and contains a dangerous article that is being, or was, or may have been, used in or in connection with the commission of a relevant offence;
  • The vehicle contains or a person in the vehicle has in their possession a prohibited plant or drug;
  • Circumstances exist on or in the vicinity of a public place or school that are likely to give rise to a serious risk to public safety and that the exercise of the powers may lessen the risk.

Unlawfully Obtained Evidence

If the police do not have a lawful reason to search a person’s car, a court may refuse to allow any evidence obtained as a result of the search of the vehicle to be used in evidence in the case against you.

If you do not consent to the search try to get the Police to record your refusal in their Police notebook.

If you have witness who can confirm that you refused the search of the vehicle it would assist your case to obtain a statement from the witnesses.

During The Car Search

When police search a person’s car with their consent or with a warrant, there are certain procedures that must be followed.

The police must respect your dignity and cause you the least amount of embarrassment possible.

When the police are permitted to search a car, those involved should not try to stop the search. If a person does try and prevent police from searching their car, they can be taken into custody for hindering police.

A police officer is allowed to use reasonable force in order to properly conduct the search.

Public Disorder

In the event of a public emergency, special powers may be given by the Commissioner of Police.

This would be a large threat to the public occurring or anticipated to happen in the future.

These powers would involve such things as setting up road blocks, cordoning off specific areas, issuing directions, requesting identification.

They would also include the ability to search people and their vehicles.

This means the police would be able to seize such things as vehicles and mobile phones without a warrant.

Sniffer Dogs

Under section 148 of the Law Enforcement (Powers & Responsibilities) Act of 2002, a police officer can utilize a sniffer dog without a warrant.

This will be done to determine if there are any drugs within someone’s car.

The sniffer dog will be used as part of general drug detection.

The dog will be able to detect any potential presence of drugs within a car.

If there is detection by a sniffer dog, it will enable the police to legally search a car without a warrant.

Questions That Must Be Answered

If a police officer stops a car, the driver and people inside must give their names and addresses when asked.

The driver must also provide the police officer with their license.

If the person is accompanying someone learning to drive, they must also provide their license.

The registered owner of a vehicle or the responsible person for the vehicle must provide the police with the details of the driver responsible for the vehicle if the vehicle has been involved in the commission of a criminal offence.

If a person does not know this information, they are required to provide as much information as possible.

Car Search with a Warrant

If the Police have a warrant they can search your vehicle.

The person being subjected to a search should ask to see the warrant.

The police are required to provide a copy of the warrant when asked.

The police will only be permitted to search for a reasonable amount of time and only perform the actions listed within the warrant.

The police also need to provide a statement of the powers provided to them within the warrant.

Items Seized When Searching Your Car

Police that perform a car search are responsible for making certain all items obtained during the search are maintained in their original condition.

Police have written procedures that detail how all seized material should be handled. This includes maintaining proper records of all property seized, proper storage and disposal.

There are certain situations where Police can request to keep material seized from a car search.

When this is done, a notice has to be provided at least 21 days in advance.

Can I leave after my car is searched?

If a police officer has asked to perform a car search, and the driver has denied the request, it is important the driver asks the police if they are free to leave before leaving.

If Police say no, a person needs to ask if they are being detained or are they free to leave.

If the police officer says a person is free to go, the driver should leave immediately.

If the Police are detaining you Police should explain why you are being detained. You should then request that you be permitted to call your lawyer.