What constitutes reasonable suspicion to search a car?

Drunk driving is a serious issue in Texas. Every 20 minutes in the state, someone is either injured or killed in a car accident involving alcohol. 

Traffic stops are usually for reckless driving, but in some instances, a police officer will ask to search the vehicle to acquire more evidence. Drivers should always use their rights and deny the officer’s request regardless of whether they were actually driving while intoxicated. However, there are some cases where there is justification. There needs to be reasonable suspicion, and a few things qualify.

In plain sight

If a police officer can see drugs or an open container of alcohol through the window, then he or she can search the rest of your vehicle due to probable cause. Law enforcement officials call this “in plain sight.” However, if an officer cannot see an illegal substance from the outside but finds it through an illegal search and seizure, then that item cannot go into evidence.

Under arrest

A police officer cannot arrest you for no reason and then use it as an excuse to search your car. There needs to be justification. For example, a police officer can have you undergo a breathalyzer test, and if your BAC is over the legal limit, then you can face arrest. After that arrest, an officer can search your vehicle to see if any alcohol or other drugs are present. 

Impounded vehicle

Police officers do not need a warrant once a vehicle is in an impound lot. Even if your car went to a lot due to a simple parking violation, police can still search it. However, there are protocols for officers to follow. For example, police cannot request a vehicle go to an impound lot for the sole purpose of being able to legally search it. The driver had to have broken a law for the search to be legal.