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En Español : 919-747-3276
Arabic : 252-654-4852
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Can Police Search Your Car When It’s Parked In Your Garage?

Americans have a right to privacy. Without that right, police could simply break into any property in the hope of finding incriminating items. They could wreak havoc on the lives of law-abiding citizens and leave us all feeling vulnerable in our own homes. Even with the privacy right in place, police have the power to conduct searches under certain circumstances.

The right to privacy is laid out under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Amendment establishes that police or other government agents can engage in “reasonable” searches. What is reasonable is obviously a matter of significant debate. With a warrant, police can search a specified location and seize specific items. Even without a warrant, police are allowed to search anywhere where a person does not have a legitimate expectation of privacy. If you grow marijuana in your front yard, you likely can’t claim a violation of privacy when police come knocking on your door. There are gray areas, of course. Do you have a legitimate expectation of privacy in your car? How about if that car is parked safely in your garage?

The Automobile Exception

The courts have generally allowed police more freedom to search vehicles. That is based on the notion that people have a lower expectation of privacy while driving than when they are in their homes. A recent case is testing the limits of that exception. The case concerns whether or not police need a warrant to search a vehicle parked in a garage on the defendant’s property. Does the expectation of privacy in such a situation match that of a person in his or her home, or that of a driver on the road?

Many commentators suggest that the privacy rights of Americans have never been more in doubt. Electronic records, increased surveillance capability, drone technology and social media all have the potential to make virtually every part of our lives open to the government. That is almost certainly not what was intended when the right to privacy was included prominently in the Bill of Rights.

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