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What Makes a Search of Your Car by Police in North Carolina Illegal?

When police officers search your car, they must do so in a way that is legal under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution. If the search is illegal, any evidence obtained from that search may be suppressed, meaning it cannot be used against you in court.

Why Do Police Search Cars?

Police officers may search a car for a variety of reasons, including:

  • To look for evidence of a crime: Police officers may search a car if they h

  • have probable cause to believe that the car contains evidence of a crime.

  • To ensure officer safety: If a police officer has reason to believe that a car contains a weapon that could be used against them, they may search the car for their own safety.

  • To locate a suspect: If a suspect is known to be in a car, police officers may search the car to locate the suspect.

What Constitutes an Illegal Search?


An illegal search occurs when a police officer violates a person's reasonable expectation of privacy. In North Carolina, the standard for determining whether a search is reasonable is whether the search was conducted pursuant to a valid warrant, an exception to the warrant requirement, or the person's consent.

If a search is conducted without a warrant, the police must have probable cause to believe that the car contains evidence of a crime or contraband. This requires the police to have a reasonable belief, based on specific and articulable facts, that criminal activity is occurring or has occurred.

Examples of specific and articulable facts include a police officer watching who appears to be "casing a business" or "observing a transaction that seems to be involved selling of illegal substances."


Exceptions to the warrant requirement include searches incident to arrest, searches based on probable cause, and searches based on exigent circumstances. These exceptions allow police officers to conduct searches without a warrant if certain conditions are met.


Police officers may also search a car if they have the owner's consent. However, the owner's consent must be voluntary and not obtained through coercion or deceit.

The Consequences of an Illegal Search

If the police conduct an illegal search of your car, any evidence obtained from that search may be suppressed. This means that the prosecution cannot use the evidence against you in court. In some cases, the suppression of evidence can lead to the dismissal of criminal charges.

How Can the Attorneys at Coastal South Law Firm Help?

If your car was illegally searched by police in North Carolina, the attorneys at Coastal South Law Firm can help protect your rights. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys will review the facts of your case to determine whether the search was legal. If the search was illegal, we will file a motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the search. If the motion is granted, the evidence will be suppressed, and the prosecution will not be able to use it against you in court. Contact the attorneys at Coastal South Law Firm for a consultation today.

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