- They have probable cause to believe something illegal is in the car (i.e. "Boy, do I smell the Devil's lettuce?"),
- As part of an "inventory search" if an arrest occurs (Note to Wise County cops: You guys normally do it wrong),
- There is no arrest but the cops have a reason to "fear for their safety," or
- A consent from the driver.
I always get excited when the Supreme Court decides a criminal law case that could actually
effect affect cases that I'm currently handling. So my law pants went crazy today when I saw the headline of "Supreme Court Limits Searches Of Cars." (<-----Note the period inside the quote.) But my joy, as so often the case on my typical Saturday night, was short lived. The court ruled that the cops don't get to search a vehicle if the only reason for the search is the arrest of the driver. This is called the "search incident to an arrest" exception to that little nuisance known as the Fourth Amendment. But that exception doesn't apply to automobiles any more.
Does it really matter? No. The cops can still search a car, more or less, if:
at 8:42 PM