Citizens in the United States are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures thanks to our constitution’s fourth amendment. It is against the law for government agencies or employees, including Georgia police officers, to violate this protection. Should evidence come from an illegal or unreasonable search of a person’s vehicle, the evidence becomes inadmissible and cannot be used against the person searched.

What is the difference between a reasonable and unreasonable search? What can be considered an illegal search and seizure of a vehicle? This article addresses these questions to clarify what a legal and illegal search can look like.

Searching a Vehicle with a Warrant

Some events or situations can occur that lead Georgia police officers to obtain a warrant to search your vehicle. Warranted searches typically accompany an active investigation. If Georgia officers are investigating a crime and have reason to suspect there is relevant evidence inside your vehicle, they can obtain a warrant and search your car.

Searching a Vehicle Without a Warrant

In most cases, vehicle searches do occur without a warrant. Searches without warrants typically result from traffic stops and can be considered legal or illegal depending on the actions of the officer(s) conducting the stop.

Actions of the officer(s) that would violate your fourth amendment rights can include:

  • Unreasonably prolonging the traffic stop
  • Stopping you without any justifiable reason to do so
  • Lacking probable cause to conduct a search after stopping you

Should your traffic stop result in a search of your vehicle and seizure of evidence, your legal team may be able to challenge the legality of the search or the use of any found evidence against you.

Legal Exceptions to Searching Your Vehicle Without a Warrant

If an officer conducts a search of your vehicle during a reasonable traffic stop, be aware of these exceptions that allow them to search your car legally without a warrant:


If you are arrested during a traffic stop, a Georgia officer can legally inspect your car if the search is related to your arrest.


Officers in Georgia may search your vehicle if you permit them to do so. Be aware that consent to search means consent to search the entire car, not just your driver’s seat or passenger cabin.

If you do not consent to a search, verbalize it. Let the officer know you do not permit them to search your vehicle. They may find a reason to search regardless, but refusing consent can help protect your rights.

Exigent Circumstances

In emergencies, police may believe passengers are in danger or the suspect is dangerous to other drivers on the road. In this instance, the officer(s) can enter the vehicle without a warrant to conduct a search for dangerous, destroyable, or removable evidence. This is only allowed in true emergency situations.

Plain-View Items

If you are pulled over and have illegal weapons, illicit substances, or any other suspicious item in plain view of the officer, they have reasonable cause to conduct a thorough search of your vehicle. Your consent is not necessary in this case.

Along with plain-view searches, an officer can search without a warrant if they detect the presence of illegal substances like alcohol or marijuana.

Outside of these parameters, a search and seizure of your vehicle may be considered illegal in Georgia.

If you suspect you are the victim of an illegal search and seizure of your vehicle, contact Gregory Bushway at Bushway Law Firm.

Do you need an experienced, successful, connected, and accessible criminal defense attorney? Talk to Bushway Law Firm.

Gregory Bushway is a former prosecutor who has successfully served as a criminal defense attorney in Macon, Georgia, since 2013. He knows the law and will fight for your rights. Tell us about your case today: 478-621-4995

Related Blogs:

Different Types of Arrest, Part 1: Misdemeanors and Felony Arrests

Different Types of Arrests, Pt 2: Citizen’s Arrest

Different Types of Arrests, Part 3: Juvenile Arrest