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Do Police Officers Need a Warrant to Search My Car?

The short answers is likely, no. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizure, which extends to each state through the Fourteenth Amendment. Krise v. State, 746 N.E.2d 957, 961 (Ind. 2001). There is a general rule that a search warrant is a prerequisite for a search to be constitutionally proper. Halsema v. State, 823 N.E.2d 668, 676 (Ind. 2005). There are exceptions, however.

One exception to the need for a warrant is probable cause to believe an operable vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime. Gibson v. State, 733 N.E.2d 945, 951 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000). The United States Supreme Court has held that when there exists probable cause to believe that a vehicle contains evidence of a crime, a warrantless search of the vehicle does not violate the Fourth Amendment because of the existence of exigent circumstances arising out of the likely disappearance of the vehicle. Id. at 951–52 (citing California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 569 (1991) (citing Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 158–59 (1925)). It is a well-recognized concept that assuming probable cause, automobiles and other vehicles may be searched without warrants “where it is not practicable to secure a warrant, because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought.” Id. at 952 n. 5. In addition to the vehicle itself, law enforcement may also search containers or packages found inside the vehicle. Id.

The facts required to establish the existence of probable cause for a warrantless search are not much different from those required for a warrant. Probable cause to issue a search warrant exists where the facts and circumstances would lead a reasonably prudent person to conclude that a search of those premises will uncover evidence of a crime. Id.

Like the Fourth Amendment, Indiana’s Constitution has a corollary provision protecting Hoosiers from unreasonable search and seizure that is essentially identical to its federal counterpart. Despite the fact that they are identical, Indiana Courts apply a different analysis to determine whether an individual’s rights were violated under the state constitution.

Automobiles are among the “effects” protected by Indiana’s Constitution. Taylor v. State, 842 N.E.2d 327, 334 (Ind. 2006). Such a right under Article 1, Section 11 is a “personal right of the individual whose person, house, papers or effects are searched or seized.” Peterson v. State, 674 N.E.2d 528, 533-34 (Ind. 1996). To determine whether a search has violated the Indiana Constitution, our courts look to the reasonableness of the police conduct under the totality of the circumstances. Id. Indiana Courts generally apply a three part test that evaluates: 1) the degree of concern, suspicion, or knowledge that a violation has occurred; 2) the degree of intrusion of the method of the search or seizure imposes on the individual’s ordinary activities; and 3) the extent of law enforcement’s needs. Danner v. State, 931 N.E.2d 421, 431 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010).

While Indiana courts often look to those three factors, there may be other factors that the courts can and would consider. Because of the standard being reasonableness, whether a case complies with or violates either constitutions depends largely on the facts of each as they are uncovered by law enforcement officers during their investigations.

If you are facing criminal charges or believe that your constitutional rights may have been violated, contact the attorneys at Keffer Hirschauer LLP today. We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized history. Act now and contact us today at 1-800-NOT-GUILTY or (317) 857-0160.