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What is Probable Cause When It Comes to Police Searches?

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What is the Role of Probable Cause When It Comes to Police Searches?

Tampa criminal defense lawyer Kevin Hayslett explains

How does probable cause relate to searches of your person or of your property? Generally, the U.S. Constitution under the fourth amendment requires law enforcement an order to conduct a search of you or your property to be in possession of a search warrant. However there are certain exceptions. One of the exceptions for not having a search warrant to conduct a search is when law enforcement has probable cause to conduct a search and the item or the area that they want to search is fleeting or can be moved.

For example, if the police want to search your home or another structure, most times law enforcement is required by state and federal law to posses a search warrant in order to conduct a search of your home other property. If it is of your person or of your vehicle, the law has relaxed conditions that allow law enforcement to conduct a valid search of your person or of vehicle if probable cause exists. 

If law enforcement has probable cause to believe that on your person or in your vehicle there is contraband or items that are illegal on their face most states or jurisdictions will allow them to conduct a search of your person or of your vehicle if the possess probable cause at the time the search begins. For example, law enforcement conducts a traffic stop; say they pull you over for speeding. In the back seat they observe a person that they believe is under the age of 21 and in the possession of that person is what they believe to be alcohol. 

Based upon the probable cause they can conduct a search of the inside of that vehicle for alcohol if they believe that they can articulate to a magistrate or judge at a later date that based upon their training and their experience what they observed gave rise to probable cause to search the inside of that car for alcohol under the theory that minors were in possession of alcohol.

Another example might be if law enforcement is walking by a car and out of the windows of that car is smoke. Based upon that officer’s training and experience they can recognize that the smell of that smoke is burnt marijuana and that may justify a search of the inside of the car. Even if they do not see the marijuana they can conduct a search on the inside of the car for marijuana without a warrant because the car can be moved. Therefore if they smell marijuana, in most states and jurisdictions, they can conduct a search of the inside of the vehicle to see if there is any marijuana or any other illegal substances based upon their probable cause. 

If they find a person in possession if it they can connect that person to that contraband than make an arrest. So an exception to possessing a warrant for search is that of a probable cause. If law enforcement has probable cause then generally they can search you, your vehicle, and you possession even if they don’t have a warrant as long as they obtain and possess probable cause.


Contact our Tampa criminal lawyers to answer all your questions about probable cause and police searches at 877-728-9653. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

The criminal defense attorneys at Carlson, Meissner, Hart & Hayslett, P.A. fight for your rights and your freedom in criminal cases  in ClearwaterTampaBradentonSpring Hill, Pinellas, Pasco, New Port Richey, Manatee, Hillsborough and Hernando Counties in Florida.

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J. Kevin Hayslett

Kevin Hayslett - Tampa criminal defense attorney 

J. Kevin HayslettThe Attorney to the Stars, is a highly-recognized attorney practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and DUI Defense throughout Tampa Bay. Follow Kevin on Twitter,  Google+, or on Radio IO on his show, "Kevin's Law".