Is An Officer Allowed To Use A Flashlight To Look In My Vehicle

Use Of A Flashlight To See Inside A Vehicle Is Not An Illegal Search

If the officer has a legal right to be next to the vehicle then using a flashlight to look inside the vehicle is not a search which would require consent, probable cause or a search warrant.  For instance during a routine traffic stop, or at the scene of an accident or while the vehicle is parked in a public parking lot the officer has a right to look into the vehicle from the outside without it being a search that requires consent, probable cause or a search warrant.  In order to assist the officer in seeing what is inside the vehicle the officer is allowed to use a flashlight without it then being considered a search of the vehicle by the officer which would require consent, probable cause or a search warrant.  The office can not put the flashlight inside the vehicle like through an open window that would be a search requiring consent, probable cause or a search warrant.

Illegal Search If Traffic Stop Is Improperly Extended For A Search

The outside search of your vehicle, however, to be legal must occur within the time necessary for the officer to complete the traffic stop.  The officer can not write a ticket or give the driver a warning instead of a ticket and then detain the driver so the officer can walk around the vehicle and look inside, with or without a flashlight.  If the officer does that it is a seizure which would require probable cause.  If the officer sees something illegal in plain view in the vehicle during that illegal seizure then because the seizure was illegal then the search that occurred during the illegal seizure is illegal and the illegal item or items can be suppressed with a motion to suppress.

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