You’re driving under the influence, and police pull you over under suspicion of drunk driving. Before you know it, you find yourself handcuffed, under arrest, and police are searching your vehicle. But you’re wondering how this happened? And when did it become legal for them to search your vehicle without a warrant? But, maybe you aren’t too familiar with the law, so you don’t speak up. But what is the law? Can police search without a warrant? In many situations, a warrant is required in order for police to conduct a search. However, after the supreme court case, Carroll v. United States, the Carroll Doctrine set a precedent for warrant-less vehicle searches. Therefore, in some situations, a warrant is not needed.
The Carroll Doctrine: Setting the Stage for Warrant-less Searches
This case took place during the prohibition era, when alcohol was illegal. In this case, police were aware of an alcohol dealer by the name of George Carroll, and therefore set up an undercover alcohol purchase in order to bust him. Police stop Carroll on his way from Detroit to Grand Rapids, and search the entire car for, then illegal, liquor.
As a defense for the search, the court states that there is a difference between searching a building, and searching a vehicle. Specifically, they focus in on the ability of cars to drive away quickly. For example, illegal substances in a house remain in place until discovery. However, illegal substances in a car travel wherever the car goes. Therefore, the court found it necessary to approve warrant-less searches of vehicles.
‘Unreasonable searches’ according to the Carroll Doctrine
They court understood that many, many people drive on public highways daily. The power to pull anyone over, at will, and search their vehicle is an inconvenience for the public. Therefore, warrant-less searches are only reasonable when police have two things: probable cause that evidence is in your vehicle, and a belief that your vehicle could potentially leave the scene before police receive a warrant.
Do you believe that you were unreasonably and unlawfully searched?
Police have the right to a warrant-less search, but not all the time. So, if you believe that, according to the Carroll Doctrine, you were party to an unlawful search— speak with an attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you divulge the details, the more clear they will be. Then, a lawyer might help you to decide whether you search was legal, or not.