Search of an Automobile

If the police have probable cause, they can search an automobile without first obtaining a search warrant. The courts have taken note of the special circumstances of cars and motorized vehicles as long ago as 1925 and established the Carroll Doctrine.

The Carroll Doctrine came out of the case of Carroll v. United States (1925). The special circumstances of a car or automobile, of course, are that cars and other motorized means of transportation are readily mobile and they can be moved if there is a delay while an officer is attempting to get a search warrant. In the Carroll Doctrine, the Supreme Court stated that evidence obtained in the search of an automobile without a warrant is permissible if the police have probable cause to believe a crime has occurred.

The exclusionary rule applies to automobile searches if the officer does not have the right to stop a car and driver in the first place. Lacking a reason to make a traffic stop makes any evidence confiscated inadmissible.

One other aspect of an auto search is the searching of a vehicle that has been impounded. If, for instance, a car has been illegally parked in a street’s no parking zone and is towed to an impound lot, a search and inventory of the belongings of the car can be conducted. Any contraband found in an inventory search can be used as evidence (Cole and Smith, 2007).

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