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Can police search my car without a search warrant?

I got pulled over for a tail light out and they demanded to search my car. The ended up finding an open alcohol container in the back although I had not been drinking. Was it a legal search?

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    Patrick Mahaney | Law Office of Patrick Mahaney
    8244 Old Federal Road
    Montgomery, AL 36117
    (334) 277-3974
    It depends and the facts contained in your question are insufficient to give a complete reply, but the general rule of law is a search of an automobile is considered one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. This is often called the "automobile exception." But, and this is a big "but" - there must the same level of probable cause needed to obtain a search warrant when the search is initiated as if the written warrant was to be obtained. In other words, the police officer must first establish sufficient level of probable cause that evidence of contraband will be uncovered during the search as if he or she was applying for a written search warrant.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama - Replied: 3/24/2013
    Vincent C. Machroli | Law Office of Vincent C. Machroli, P.C.
    High Point Plaza
    Hillside, IL 60162-1949
    (708) 449-7400
    Yes, search was legal, they had probable cause to stop you due to the light being out. You should schedule a consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Once the case is resolved to your satisfaction, you'll be glad you paid the money to hire her/him & properly protect your legal rights.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois - Replied: 3/21/2013
    David Harrison | Miller & Harrison, LLC
    2305 Broadway
    Boulder, CO 80304
    (303) 449-2830
    If you gave consent for them to search they can search. If they had probable cause to search they probably could search, but probable cause has to be based on something other than a hunch. You should review the facts with a lawyer in person, who has reviewed the police reports.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado - Replied: 3/21/2013
    Anderson Walsh PLLC
    COEUR D ALENE, ID 83814
    (208) 665-5658
    Police may not search your car absent a search warrant, probable cause, or your knowing, intelligent, and voluntary consent to search. After being pulled over for a cracked taillight, police may develop probable cause to expand the scope of the original stop - as in cases where people are arrested for driving under the influence, or the car is searched because the officer says that he smells marijuana. So, you should immediately retain experienced and competent criminal defense counsel to review the police reports to evaluate whether or not you should file a motion to suppress the evidence. If the stop is found to be illegal, the discovery of the open container will be suppressed leaving the state no evidence to proceed to trial. You need to act quickly because there are deadlines to file such pretrial motions.
    Answer Applies to: Idaho - Replied: 3/20/2013
    David Akulian | Not Guilty In DC
    10 G St. NE #710
    Washington, DC 20002
    (800) 408-0919
    Generally police need a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement to search a car. For example if police say they smell marijuana in a car, they likely have probable cause to search that car for marijuana without a warrant. Further if a person consents to a search, the search will be legal without a warrant. However without those or some other exception to the warrant requirement, such a search is per se illegal and evidence collected should be suppressed.
    Answer Applies to: District of Columbia - Replied: 3/20/2013
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