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Warrentless Investigative Seizures and Searches of Automobiles and Their Contents and Occupants

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1983
68 pages
The validity of warrantless searches of automobiles should be decided on a case by case basis; in addition, other alternatives should be considered to prevent unnecessary invasions of personal privacy.
Warrantless searches are permitted based on the automobile exception to the rule requiring a warrant for a search and seizure and in connection with a lawful arrest of a vehicle occupant. The validity of a search under the automobile exception should depend on probable cause regarding seizable items in the automobile and circumstances making it dangerous or impractical for the police to obtain a warrant. Warrantless searches occurring in connection with an arrest should depend on the reasonable chance that the arrested occupants could enter the automobile and seize a weapon or evidence before being taken to a police station or jail. Other alternatives could protect the police and the public as well as preserve evidence. Among these are authorizing police to handcuff all lawfully arrested occupants of an automobile, to lock the persons in a police vehicle, to temporarily lock any containers found in the automobile in the automobile's trunk or in a police vehicle, to lock the vehicle and have it towed to a police impoundment lot, and to have a police officer drive the vehicle to the impoundment lot. For searches conducted under the automobile exception, the standard adopted in the case of United States v. Ross should determine the validity of a warrantless search of a container. A total of 323 footnotes are supplied.

Date Published: January 1, 1983