Police can, and often do, impound vehicles. Unsurprisingly, if the vehicle has been involved in a serious enough traffic offense, the police may take custody of it. However, there are several other situations where police may tow a vehicle away. In fact, there are even occasions where police may impound a vehicle even if a crime hasn’t been committed.
Whether police can impound a car will ultimately depend on the specific circumstances that brought the officer into contact with the vehicle in the first place. Generally, police will not be able to confiscate a vehicle due to a routine traffic stop or because the car is illegally parked for a short period of time. There are three general situations where police can impound a vehicle.
Similar to whether police can impound a car in the first place, whether they will be able to then search the impounded car will simply depend on specific facts and circumstances.
However, as a general rule, police will conduct an inventory search of a vehicle after it is impounded. These searches do not require a warrant and they do not require probable cause. In fact, these searches generally are not for evidence of a crime, but rather to simply document evidence, and to protect the police from hidden dangers or allegations of theft.
How extensive or invasive these searches are will depend on the law of the state where the vehicle is impounded. Some states limit inventory searches to plain view, whereas others allow for complete sweeps of the vehicle.
Police are not always aware of the nuances of when towing and impounding a car is appropriate. Additionally, it is possible that police conducted an unlawful search of an impounded vehicle. If your vehicle has been impounded unlawfully or you suspect that it was searched illegally as a result of being impounded, contacting a criminal defense lawyer is the best way to learn about your rights.
Last Modified: 03-01-2018 01:15 AM PSTLaw Library Disclaimer
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