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When Can Police Search My Vehicle?

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The right of police to search you or your property has always been a sticky issue in America. In fact, the USA was barely 13 years old when the Fourth Amendment was added to the constitution, prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure of property without a warrant.

Things haven’t gotten any easier from there. Defining “unreasonable” and determining when police can and cannot obtain a warrant has been the subject of several court cases over the years, and they aren’t likely to let up any time soon.

Needless to say, these laws are complicated, but knowing your rights and exercising them accordingly could mean the difference between an easy conviction and a dismissed case. Know the facts and be ready to protect yourself during your next police encounter.

Probable Cause and Police Searches

As stated in the Fourth Amendment, police must receive a proper warrant before they can legally search you or your property. In order to receive these warrants, they must have some form of probable cause. Even though probable cause can make or break a drug or weapons case, most suspects serve it up to police on a silver platter by doing any of the following:

  • Leaving Visual Evidence in the Open: If police pull you over and can see a bong or an open beer can lying around in your car, it’s pretty much game over. That visual evidence is all a police officer needs to obtain a warrant and search your vehicle legally.
  • Hearsay: If a cop overhears you and your nervous friend talking about or hinting at something illegal, they can easily use that to obtain a search warrant. While this hearsay is inadmissible in court, if the search yields results, that’s more than enough for the cops to have what they need.
  • Getting Caught in the Act: Oftentimes, people get careless and don’t notice cops nearby when they are doing or planning something illegal. If a cop parked across the street saw you exchanging money with someone in the parking lot of a gas station known to be a common drug deal site, they can automatically search you based on the visual evidence.
  • Being Ratted Out: While not quite as common as the other three, sworn affidavits from other people can be used by police to obtain search warrants. If a former drug dealer or customer rats you out and signs an affidavit identifying you to police, you can legally be pulled over and searched without question.

If any of these factors are working against you, there is not a whole lot you can do to keep the police out of your car or home. However, the police will often go out of their way to make you think otherwise, which leads us to our next point.

Avoiding Illegal Searches

Just because they don’t have probable cause doesn’t mean police officers won’t try to search you. If a police officer asks to search your car, politely decline their request. The police officer will most likely use scare tactics and play mind games in an attempt to make you change your mind. Don’t fall for it.

Lines like, “Why can’t I search you if you have nothing to hide?” or, “Why do you seem so nervous?” have no legal weight, and are simply meant to trick you into giving the cop full access without a warrant. When subjected to this line of questioning, clearly and plainly say no and invoke your Fourth Amendment rights by requesting that you see a warrant or speak to an attorney. While police can still call in a K9 unit, your best bet is to call their bluff and wait, rather than consent to a search immediately upon being threatened.

Even if your encounter goes south and police do find something illegal, clearly refusing the initial search can potentially ruin the charges and make your case much easier to handle in court.  To ensure that your case doesn’t become a classic case of your word against theirs, record the stop from start to finish. If a cop tries to claim that you gave them permission or probable cause when you really didn’t, your case will be much easier to argue if there is a clear record of the stop.

Hire Aggressive Legal Defense

Anyone who has had to deal with the police knows that they don’t always obey their own rules. Even if you do everything right, police can still find a bogus reason to search. Unfortunately, there is often a judge and jury who are more than willing to take their story at face value. If you’re facing criminal charges due to an illegal search, begging, pleading, or complaining isn’t going to do you any good. You need aggressive legal defense from Mark Thiessen and his team at Thiessen Law Firm. We don’t have much tolerance for police misconduct, and we will fight tirelessly to make sure your Fourth Amendment rights are protected to the fullest. Contact us for a free consultation today.

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