Texas residents expect that they will have privacy in their homes and other property that they own. This includes their vehicles. However, while the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, what is deemed reasonable varies depending on the type of property.
People generally have the greatest protections inside their homes. There are some exceptions, but generally if the police want to search your home for evidence of a crime, they need to have a warrant to do so.
Police can search a vehicle if they have probable cause
People have less protection when they are inside their vehicles. Police merely need to have probable cause to believe that there is evidence of a crime inside the vehicle in order to legally search it. Probable cause is more than just a hunch. They need to have some reasonable, articulable reason to believe that there is evidence of a crime inside the vehicle.
This could mean that they smell drugs inside the vehicle, see a weapon, drugs or drug paraphernalia in plain sight, or have other reasons based on the drivers’ actions or statements. They could also search the vehicle if the driver gives them permission to search it.
While police can stop people for basically any traffic violation, in order to search the vehicle they need additional evidence of a crime to actually search a vehicle. Stopping someone for speeding or a broken taillight alone does not give police the right to search the vehicle.
Drivers should know that they do not need to consent to searches of their vehicle. It is also important for drivers to give the police no additional basis for searching the vehicle.
In court, the police have the burden for showing why they had probable cause to search the vehicle. It is important for drivers to give police no reason to conduct a search. Experienced attorneys understand what police can and cannot do and may be able to protect people’s rights.