Helping Clients Protect Their Future and Their Liberty

When is the search of a vehicle legal?

On Behalf of | May 21, 2024 | Search & Seizure

For the state to successfully prosecute charges against an individual, there needs to be adequate evidence of misconduct. Prosecutors largely rely on investigative agencies and police departments to gather adequate evidence to bring charges against someone and secure a conviction.

When someone faces drug charges, the state’s evidence often comes from a search of their person, home or vehicle. Sometimes, overzealous police officers conduct searches that violate the law or the rights of the targeted individual. In cases where searches are illegal, defendants can sometimes work with their lawyers to prove that officers violated their rights.

Searches are legal in specific situations

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. There are many rules that police officers must follow when conducting searches to ensure that the evidence they collect is actually useful in court. Generally speaking, they have to follow one of three approaches to legally search a vehicle.

Oftentimes, police officers rely on probable cause to justify a vehicle search. They see, hear or possibly even smell something when approaching the vehicle that leads them to believe a specific crime has occurred or is currently underway. Probable cause requires more than just a vague suspicion. It necessitates an articulable concern involving a specific type of criminal activity.

Without probable cause, a police officer might need a warrant to conduct a search. They must convince a judge that there is reason to go through someone’s vehicle to find evidence of a specific crime. If an officer doesn’t have a warrant and doesn’t have probable cause, then their only other option is to seek the consent of the person driving the vehicle.

All too often, drivers stopped by police make the mistake of giving up their rights. If an officer asks to search a vehicle, that typically means that they want to find something illegal and that they don’t have a reason to search yet. Drivers who know their rights and who decline vehicle searches can avoid a scenario in which officers try to hold them accountable for something they didn’t even know was inside the vehicle.

Individuals facing drug charges can sometimes base their defense strategy on challenging or excluding certain evidence from their trials. Recognizing an illegal search could help someone defend against criminal charges or seek the dismissal of pending charges successfully.