The role of the police has always been to ensure that life and properties are protected at all costs. When a crime is committed, the police can go the extra mile to ensure the crime is solved even if it means entering into one’s private property. However, the question is, can police search a parked car on private property?
No, the police cannot search a car parked on private property unless they have a warrant or probable cause to search the car.
Can Police Search a Parked Car on Private Property?
The police can search a parked car on private property, but only if they have a warrant or probable cause. The probable cause here can mean providing evidence that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed.
This means that, if the police do not have a warrant or probable cause to search a car parked in your backyard which is private property, they will not proceed with the search. As long as you did not give them the consent to do so.
When Can Police Search a Parked Car on Private Property?
The police can search a parked car on private property when:
1. You Give them Consent
If the police enter your private property to search a car, they will ask for your permission to do so, when they do, it’s left for you to either permit them or not.
However, whatever the cops do next depends on the response you give them. If you permit them to go ahead with the search, they will, if you do not, they will not proceed with the search until they get a warrant.
2. They Have a Warrant to Search the Car
The police can search a car parked on private property when they come with a warrant which is a document issued by a legal or government official authorizing the police or another body to make an arrest, search premises, or carry out some other actions relating to the administration of justice.
This means that the warrant issued to the police has given them the authority to search the parked car even though it’s on your private property.
In this case, your consent is no longer needed. Whether you agree with the search or not, the police will proceed owing to the fact that they have a warrant that authorizes them to do so.
3. There’s a Probable Cause
The police can search a vehicle parked on private property if there’s probable cause for them to do so. This probable cause ranges from a crime that has been committed and one that is yet to be committed.
In this case, the police might probably not come with a warrant which means they will have to get your permission to proceed.
However, since one of the duties of a good citizen is to assist the police when needed to prevent and solve a crime, it’s expected of you to grant them the necessary permission to search the car.
For example, if a car that looks like the one parked on your private property was just used for a robbery and led the police to hot pursuit if they come seeking your permission to search the car, the permission should be granted per a good citizen.
If for example the car was stolen and parked on your private property, if you refuse to give them permission to search the car, they may decide to get a warrant to search the car. If the car happens to be the one that was stolen, how will you defend your action?
It’s true that it’s your private property, but it will be an honor helping the police to solve a crime. You don’t have to start acting superior and almighty, that doesn’t make you a good citizen.
Meanwhile, when the police arrive at your private property to search a vehicle parked on it, if they have probable cause to conduct the search, they do not need your permission to do so. They may ask, but whether you permit them or not, they will probably proceed with the search.
For example, the Supreme Court decision in Carroll v. US held that the police do not need a warrant to search any vehicle parked on private property if they have probable cause to search the car due to its inherent mobility. You can also see the Gant v. Arizona.
Therefore, if you decide to sue the police for searching a car parked on your private property, you may likely going to fight a battle you will not win. This is because it has always been like this since 1925 in the United States. The Supreme Court decision in Carroll v. US confirmed it.
What Should You Do About The Search?
If there’s no probable cause why they should search the car and they did not come with a warrant, you can decide to permit them to search the car. You can also tell them not to proceed with the searches.
They may probably come back with a warrant if they suspect the car of any crime. However, if there’s a probable cause why the car should be searched, your consent won’t matter.
The truth is that the police cannot just enter your private property and start searching your car. They need your consent to do that or a warrant. If they don’t have a warrant, they can easily get your permission to search, however, if you fail to give them permission, they will not proceed with the search until they bring a warrant. The warrant is what enables them to do so with or without your consent.
If the police come with a warrant to search a vehicle parked on your private property, they don’t need your consent to proceed. They may of course tell you why they came and why the car is being searched, but whether you agree with the search or not, it’s not their concern. The warrant has given them the right to do so.