When is a vehicle search and seizure legal?
While officers have a wide array of abilities and responsibilities pursuant to the traffic stop, there are rights the motorist has that they should vehemently protect and reserve. The Fourth Amendment is one of the greatest protections for an individual against the overarching powers of the state. Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, police officers are prohibited from searching your vehicle for evidence of drug possession/trafficking without probable cause. Any evidence obtained from an illegal search will likely be thrown out of the case by the court, and, therefore, cannot be used against you.
When is a search legal?
It is important to note that there are circumstances where an officer is legally allowed to search your vehicle after a traffic stop. Generally, one of the following is required for a search of your vehicle:
- Consent: An officer may search your vehicle if they have your consent to do so. One of the main mistakes many people make is consenting to a vehicle search without considering the potential negative outcomes.
- Warrant: An officer may obtain a warrant to search your vehicle, as long as the warrant is based on probable cause and clearly limits the area of the search and the items they are searching for. However, a search warrant is not required for a vehicle search.
- Probable cause: If the officer does not have a warrant, they can still search your vehicle if they have probable cause or reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. Probable cause is based on the totality of the circumstances, including information the officer gathers during the traffic stop.
- Plain view: If there is evidence of a crime in plain view (e.g., visible through windows), the officer can seize it.
Many individuals have condemned themselves to facing a criminal prosecution by not knowing and protecting their own rights. A criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights and determine if police officers have violated them in any way.