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When Can Police Search Your Vehicle

When Can Police Search Your Vehicle in Arizona

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States protects people from unlawful searches and seizure of their assets. Unlawful searches violate your right to privacy, and the seizure of your assets may affect you financially.

The "automobile exception" to the Fourth Amendment gives people less of an expectation of privacy in their vehicles than in their homes, but law enforcement officers still cannot search every vehicle they stop for traffic violations without probable cause. In certain circumstances in Arizona, law enforcement officers may search your vehicle without a search warrant and without your consent.


In Arizona, law enforcement officers need probable cause to search your vehicle without a warrant or your consent. Probable cause requires the law enforcement officer to have a reasonable belief that a crime has occurred, such as driving under the influence or drug possession. A traffic violation by itself is not probable cause for a vehicle search.

Objects or actions that give law enforcement officers probable cause to search your vehicle include:

  • Drugs, drug paraphernalia, or weapons in plain sight.
  • Marijuana odor.
  • Witness statements.
  • Driver admitting or offering information.
  • Reasonable belief that the vehicle search is necessary for officer safety.


Once the law enforcement officer has probable cause, he will search your vehicle. He will instruct you and your passengers to exit the vehicle and stand 20 feet away unless you have already been placed under arrest for another charge.

The search will include the entire vehicle and any belongings left in it, including those owned by your passengers. It may involve the use of a K-9.


In some cases, the vehicle search and property seizure are unlawful. If your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, your criminal defense attorney can file a Motion to Suppress with the court.

The court considers three points when determining if the search was legal:

  • Was the law enforcement officer lawfully present? If he did not have a valid reason to stop your vehicle, then he may not have been lawfully present.
  • Did the law enforcement officer have legal access to the drugs or paraphernalia? If these objects were not in plain sight, your vehicle did not have a marijuana odor, or you did not give consent to search, he may not have had legal access to these items.
  • Is the nature of the drugs or paraphernalia obviously incriminating? Law enforcement cannot search your vehicle if the object does not obviously indicate a crime.

If the judge rules in your favor, any evidence found during the unlawful search cannot be used in the case against you.


If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime as a result of a vehicle search in Mohave, Yavapai, La Paz, and Coconino Counties, contact The Hamp Law Offices at (928) 753-6868 or 1 (866)-490-HAMP. We can defend your rights and protect your assets. Call today for a free consultation.

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If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, you may be feeling frightened, anxious, and uncertain of what your future holds. The competent and experienced attorneys at the Hamp Law Offices can help you during this difficult time. We are dedicated to fighting for the rights of our clients and providing excellent legal representation to those who have been accused of a crime. Contact our firm today to discuss your case.