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When Can Tampa Police Search Your Car?

On average, police pull over 50,000 drivers every day in the US – that’s more than 20 million motorists each year. So if you see those flashing lights and get that sinking feeling in your stomach, you’re far from alone. But the police have rules they must follow during a traffic stop.

But if you’re a Tampa motorist, it’s good to know what the law says about lawful and unlawful searches. The police are not authorized to stop you and search your car for just any reason. They need to have lawful grounds before they proceed.

Let’s take a look at when the Tampa police are within their rights to search your car.

Do Tampa Police Need a Warrant to Search Your Car?

In short, the answer is yes, they usually do.

If the Florida police search your vehicle without a warrant any evidence they produce will likely be inadmissible in court. To obtain a search warrant, the police must convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe either:

  • A crime is in progress
  • They will be able to uncover evidence of a crime in that location

The police provide an affidavit – a written statement given under oath. The suspect does not have an opportunity to contest the warrant at this point. However, they may be able to do so later.

Some grounds for issuance of a search warrant include:

  • Recovery of stolen property
  • Items used in criminal activity
  • Items of an obscene nature or related to gambling
  • Violates laws relating to the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquor
  • Violates food and drug laws

You have a right to retain a duplicate copy of the original search warrant and an inventory of any property seized.

Even when the police have a warrant, they are not authorized to go beyond its terms. They may only search for the item or evidence specified on the warrant. However, if they find other evidence or illegal materials during the course of this search, they may seize them.

When Can Tampa Police Conduct a Vehicle Search Without a Warrant?

There are several scenarios in which a Tampa police officer may be able to conduct legal searches without a warranty. These include providing consent, probable cause, search incident, and emergency purposes.

Providing Consent

At a traffic stop, a Tampa police officer may request your explicit permission to search your vehicle. If you provide it, they may legally proceed with the search.

However, you have the right not to be coerced or intimidated into giving consent. If you feel that this was the case, talk to your lawyer about this.

Probable Cause

During a routine traffic stop, the police officer may feel that something is amiss. For example, if they catch sight of contraband in plain view, that is probable cause to search your vehicle. They may also smell drugs and that would constitute probable cause.

If they have reason to suspect that you have contraband in your vehicle, they may only search where it may reasonably be stored. Drugs can be stored anywhere, so in this case, the officer would have the right to search the entire vehicle.

Incident to an Arrest

To protect law enforcement officers, they may search your vehicle for weapons or other evidence during the course of an arrest. For example, if the police are arresting you for possession of contraband, they can use this power to search your vehicle. This serves several purposes:

  • Protecting the police officers
  • Preventing escape
  • Preserving evidence

If you are arrested for any lawful reason, the police have the right to perform an inventory search on your vehicle. The purpose of this search is not to find contraband or evidence. But if the police do find this, it could form part of the case against you.

Emergency Purposes

Obtaining a search warrant takes time. If the police officer judges that the delay would put the public’s safety at risk or could result in evidence being destroyed, they may search your vehicle.

What to Do During Tampa Police Vehicle Searches

Vehicle searches can be very stressful even when you have got nothing to hide. It’s very important to remain calm, respectful, and cooperative.

Remember, you have the legal right to withhold consent for the officer to search your vehicle. Under these circumstances, they would have to use one of the other reasons mentioned above for performing the search.

During the traffic stop, you are not legally obliged to answer questions relating to:

  • What is in the vehicle
  • If you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • If you are in trouble for any other reason

The police could use your answer to these questions as probable cause to search the vehicle. Although you do not have to provide information, you must also not lie to the police.

If the Search Goes Ahead

If the Tampa police feel they have established probable cause or another reason for performing the search, do not confront them or attempt to stop the search. You may calmly restate your refusal to provide consent, which should be recorded on their body camera.

Remain calm throughout and feel free to note down details that you may find useful later.

Unlawful Search and Seizure

We all appreciate the hard work and dedication of Tampa police officers. However, they may not violate the law or our civil rights. If you feel that your search and the seizure of any goods from your vehicle were unlawful, follow this up with an attorney who can investigate your case.

Your attorney will be able to gain access to body cam and dash cam footage of the incident. If the search was unlawful, he or she can file a motion to have illegally obtained evidence thrown out.

What to Do if Tampa Police Unlawfully Search Your Car

If your vehicle has been unlawfully searched by the Tampa police, you need help from an attorney.

At RHINO Lawyers, we’re here to review your case and provide any legal assistance you may need. Call us today at (844) RHINO-77 or contact us online for a free case review.


RHINO Lawyers can help and guide you through a system molded by law enforcement, judges, and lawyers for decades. Having won cases for our clients in similar circumstances, our criminal defense team knows what it takes to fight on your behalf.

Let RHINO Lawyers answer your questions and review the facts of your case with a Free Consultation. So, get started by completing the “Free Instant Case Evaluation” or by calling us any time, day or night, at (844) RHINO-77.