Can an officer search the trunk of your car?

Question: Can an officer search the trunk of your car and closed compartments on a warrantless search?

Answer: YES, BUT…. According to State v. Reid, if an officer lawfully stops a car and subsequently is able to establish probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains some type of contraband, the officer has the right to search the entire vehicle, including the trunk and all other concealable compartments. Nevertheless, the officer may only search areas of the car where he/she is able to establish that there is “a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found” in that specific area of the vehicle.

So for example, if an officer makes a lawful stops of a vehicle on the road and smells the odor of burnt marijuana in the passenger compartment of the vehicle, that does not provide the officer with sufficient probable cause to search the trunk of the vehicle. However, if no large amount of marijuana is found in the passenger compartment, the officer would then have sufficient probable cause to reasonably believe that the suspected contraband could be in another compartment of the car, say the trunk.

State v. Reid, 2013-Ohio-4274, Ohio App. Lexis 4492.


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