Automobile Exception


In our last discussion, we talked about some of the exceptions that permit law enforcement to gather admissible evidence during a warrantless search. One of the most common questions I get is regarding the search of an automobile. The automobile exception constitutionally permits the law enforcement officer to search the automobile without a warrant if the officer has probable cause to believe the automobile contains contraband or evidence of a crime, and circumstances exist making the normal warrant procedure impractical. The courts look at the totality of the circumstances when considering whether a law enforcement officer had probable cause to do a warrantless automobile search. The courts have ruled that probable cause to search an automobile is present when the facts and circumstances before the officer would lead a reasonably discreet and prudent person to believe that the contents of the automobile would be unlawful.

An example that plays out on a daily basis is the law enforcement officer that stops the individual for a brake light violation and happens to smell marijuana when he or she approaches the vehicle. For example, Larry Law Enforcement pulls over Charlie Cannabis because his license plate bulb is not illuminated. As Larry approaches the car, his "well-trained nose" smells the odor of burnt marijuana in the air. Chris Cannabis rolls down the window and marijuana smoke bellows out of the car and he's placing what appears to Larry as a marijuana joint in the ashtray. Larry, under these circumstances, will generally have probable cause to search Chris Cannabis' car, without seeking a warrant. If you've been arrested and need legal advice, call the Law Office of Robert L. Booker today. We will thoroughly review your case, and discuss any defenses you may have.

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