If you have been pulled over by a police officer in Texas, there is a possibility that they may ask to search your vehicle for evidence of a crime, such as drugs, drug paraphernalia, and unregistered weapons.
However, just because an officer asks to search your vehicle, does not mean that the search is lawful. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects people from illegal searches and seizures by law enforcement.
In other words, without consent, police officers must have a valid search warrant to search anywhere where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g., their residence). However, there are exceptions, where a warrant is not necessary to conduct a search.
Exception to the Fourth Amendment
Under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment, if an officer does not have a search warrant, they may still stop and search your vehicle if they have probable cause to do so. An officer has probable cause if he or she reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that evidence of a criminal offense will be found in your vehicle. An officer may not stop you for a minor traffic offense and proceed to search your vehicle based on a hunch or feeling.
Plain view exception
Generally, if an officer does not have a warrant, they are still allowed to legally seize evidence that is “in plain view.” For example, during a traffic stop, an officer may seize a bag of cocaine on the backseat if they observe it through the car window.
Evidence obtained illegally may be suppressed in court
If an officer unlawfully searched your vehicle and is attempting to use the evidence obtained during the search against you in court, your criminal defense attorney may file a motion to suppress that evidence due to the illegal nature of the search. If the judge finds that the evidence was seized during an unlawful search, it will likely be thrown out of your case altogether. Without this evidence, prosecutors may be unable to build a solid case against you and be forced to drop the charges.