When Can Police Search Your Car?

Most of us have been or will get pulled over a traffic infarction at least one time in our life. Traffic stops are the most common ways that police interact with the general public. There have been 12.7 million traffic stops conducted by the police in Illinois between 2011 and 2017. The city of Chicago alone witnessed 200,000 traffic stops in 2018. Let’s look more at when you can be pulled over and when can police search your car.

There are dozens of reasons why Illinois police may pull you over including a busted tail light, forgetting to signal a lane change, talking on the cell phone, or suspected of DUI. One reason why traffic stops are so stressful for people is that a lot of people are not aware of when the police can search their car. Whatever the reasons, though, there are certain rights you have when you are pulled over by the police. Knowing how to use these rights can save you from a lot of uncertainty and stress.

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When Can Police in Illinois Pull You Over?

A police officer must have reasonable suspicion that you were committing an unlawful act for you to pull over in the state of Illinois. Otherwise, it is a violation of your Constitutional rights. The Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures and as such reasonable suspicion. Probable cause is the standard requirement for an Illinois traffic stop.

However, reasonable suspicion is a very low standard and Illinois police only have to demonstrate that the circumstances reasonably warranted an instruction. These circumstances could be anything ranging from driving too slowly or acting “odd.”

Police car pulling over a suspicious driver

This usually means that the police will need to obtain a search warrant before they can check your car. To do that, they have to show a probable cause to a judge.

Probable cause is a better standard as it is reasonable grounds that person has committed a crime or will commit one. They also have to show that there is a likelihood of evidence to be found in the vehicle that is to be searched.

This is greater than just suspicion but is also well short of certainty. In most cases, probable cause is necessary if the police want to search your vehicle in Illinois.

A Warrant is Not Always Required For Police to Search Your Car

Not every police search needs a warrant, however. The rules are different when it comes to traffic stops and a warrant is not required if there is a risk of jeopardizing the possible evidence in the car if the person drives away while the police are waiting for the warrant to be issued.

So what are the circumstances when police in Illinois can search your car without a warrant:

  • When you have given the officer your consent.
  • The officer has probable cause to believe your vehicle contains incriminating evidence.
  • The officer can also seize any item in plain view inside the car if they believe it is contraband.
  • The officer reasonably believes a search is needed for their protection.
  • A person has been arrested and the search is related to the arrest.

Vehicles may be stopped if an officer has reasonable and articulable suspicions that the driver is violating a traffic law. If the offense is something minor like speeding or busted tail light, the office probably will not be allowed to search your car with only these reasons. However, if you are stopped for conduct outside of a traffic stop, a search of your vehicle is likely to be permitted.

Illinois Police Can Also Search Impounded Cars Without a Warrant

If the police have towed and impounded a car after an arrest, they can now search it without requiring a warrant during an inventory search. This inventory can be as complete as the Illinois police want it to be and typically includes opening up locked compartments or trunks in the car. These searches are typically done by the police to protect themselves from potentially dangerous objects in the vehicle or to prevent claims that items were stolen from a car.

Police can pair and impound your car for a whole range of reasons from a parking violation to car theft. However, Illinois police do not have the right to impound your car just because they need to conduct a search on it. They are required by law to follow strict procedures when it comes to car searches.

If the police are impounding your car for a simple offense, request them to contact a person who can come and retrieve your car. Knowing these simple search warrant exceptions can prevent unreasonable searches and seizure of your car and protect your privacy.

If you or your loved one has been charged with a crime during a traffic stop, contact an experienced Chicago criminal defense lawyer to discuss your options.

Car Searches Must Not Take an Unreasonably Long Time

Typically, a police officer will ask for your name, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance during a traffic stop. These are things that you have to provide to the officer.

Next, the officer will tell you the reason why you have been stopped and will decide whether to give you a ticket for the infarction. This is the extent of what a traffic officer is required to do during a stop. However, if the officer insists on asking where you were going, wants to check your car, or takes more time than is reasonably required to resolve the issue, then they may be violating your rights.

If, however, the police officer does not tell you the reason for stopping you, then you have the right to ask why you have been stopped and if you can leave. If the officer says you cannot leave, then you will probably be given a ticket or are under arrest.

On the other hand, if you have only been stopped for over speeding or some other offense, there is no reason to conduct a search of your car unless they believe you are intoxicated or have committed some other crime.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

The Miranda warnings are the minimum standards for police officers to make suspects and defendants aware of their rights. This means that you can refuse to answer a police officer’s questions beyond your name, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. This may make you seem as uncooperative but in many cases, coming off as uncooperative is better than an incriminating response.

There are many people who believe that if they cooperate fully with law enforcement and answer their questions, the police officer will let them go lightly. However, this is not often the case and many times any response you give to the police can and is used in the court of law against you.

One of the many purposes of Miranda warning is to preserve the right of a defendant to not incriminate themselves. If you are under arrest, you can stay silent and ask for a lawyer. Even if you are not under arrest, you can refuse to allow a police officer to search your car. However, police officers mostly do not make the defendant aware of this right. Refusing a car search does not mean you are admitting to guilt but a police officer may try to manipulate you into giving consent by taking advantage of your unawareness.

However, there are certain instances like the ones mentioned above in which police are allowed to search your car even without your consent.

You Have the Right to Refuse Field Sobriety Tests

In Illinois, you also have the right to refuse to take a field sobriety test in case an officer suspects you are inebriated and want to determine your level of intoxication. You may later be required to submit the report of chemical testing to determine your blood alcohol content but by that time, the levels may have decreased substantially so that they do not incriminate you. However, refusing to take a field sobriety test may result in negative consequences regarding your driver’s license privilege.

Additionally, you do not need to tell the officer how many drinks you have had, where you were coming from or going to, who you were with, or any other possibly incriminating information. If you don’t answer these questions, you may still be arrested but it is much safer to arrive at the police station and call a lawyer from there, rather than say something that may be used against you.

Schedule an Appointment With Chicago Traffic Lawyers

For most people, being pulled over by a police car can be a terrifying experience. It is important to know that you have rights and you can use them if you are involved in a traffic stop. If you feel you have been stopped or arrested without just cause, you should call a Chicago traffic ticket lawyer immediately. We have a team of highly skilled attorneys who have experience in traffic stops and pull-overs and we can make sure your rights remain protected. Call us today to schedule a free consultation with us.

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