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Search and seizure during a traffic stop: 3 key questions

On Behalf of | Jul 6, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

If you’re involved in a traffic stop, the police may want to search your vehicle. After talking to you, the officer may decide that they want to do a search to see if you’re breaking any laws. This is often done if they believe there are drugs in the car, for instance, or other evidence of criminal activity.

However, American citizens have rights under the Fourth Amendment to protect them from illegal searches and seizures. That means that there are strict rules that the police have to follow in order to do this legally. Breaking those rules would mean that the evidence can’t be used in court. To help you see how this works, here are three important questions to ask.

When are police allowed to search your vehicle?

The police cannot perform an arbitrary search or a random search. They need to at least have probable cause first. They could also get a warrant, though that would be very rare during a traffic stop. Additionally, they can ask you for your consent to a search. The final way that they can search your car is if you are actively being arrested. For instance,  if you’re under the influence of illegal drugs while driving, they can use that as a reason to search the rest of your car and look for more.

What do you do if police ask to search your vehicle?

If the police ask to search your vehicle, it’s up to you to give them consent or not. You do not have to do what they say and allow them to perform the search. You are fully within your rights to tell them that they can’t do it without a warrant. As noted above, however, they may still carry out the search if they believe they have probable cause. Then it will become very important to determine if they had cause or not.

Can evidence in plain sight be used against you?

Yes, evidence in plain sight can certainly be used against you. Anything that you leave out where anyone could see it may be noticed by a police officer. You do not have a expectation of privacy. For instance, the police could notice drugs on the seat of the car while they’re talking to you, and they could then make an arrest and even search your car – even though you never consented to a search to begin with.

If you’re facing charges and you have any questions about the legal process, please feel free to get in touch with our office at your earliest convenience.