Searched By Police Without a Warrant???

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Searched By Police Without a Warrant???


Imagine you are in the middle of a traffic stop and you are forced to interact with an officer. As the officer has pulled you over, he has already asked you for your license, registration, and insurance. During the interaction the officer asks if he can search your vehicle. You inform the officer that he does not have probable cause to search your vehicle and does not have your permission. Can the officer still search your vehicle?

The answer is not as clear cut and the facts of each driver’s specific situation will differ, but there are exceptions that may allow an officer to search your vehicle even when no probable cause is present. This is not an all encompassing list, but it is helpful to see how your own actions during a traffic stop may provide information to an officer which decreases your ability to protect yourself and increases the officers suspicion during the stop.

1.Consent- When a driver consents to a search, the officer no longer has the burden of displaying that probable cause was present. You have effectively done the officers job for him because you have knowingly and voluntary informed the officer not to worry about probable cause because you have agreed to let him search you or your vehicle.

You have the power to remove consent. If you want to provide consent for two-minutes, then you could. This is unlikely to be a recommendation from an attorney, however, the power to remove consent belongs to you. You also have the power to dictate the scope of consent. For example, you have the power to tell an officer that he or she can check your glove compartment, but not your trunk. Keep in mind that when you start to provide consent, it may raise questions as to why consent was removed. Officers have a lot of discretion in the criminal justice system, therefore if there is a question as to when consent was provided and removed, the officer may be provided with the benefit of the doubt as to when consent was removed. This is why it is important from the start to be crystal clear that you are refusing to consent to a search.

2.Plain View- It is generally unreasonable for anyone to close their eyes to something that is directly in front of them. If there is evidence in front of an officer that is immediately identifiable as illegal, the officer does not need a warrant because probable cause to arrest is already present. It would take an unnecessary amount of time for an officer to go get a warrant when probable cause is directly in front of them.

3.Search Incident to a lawful arrest- Once a lawful arrest has occurred, officers have the right to search you and the immediate surrounding area that was under your control at the time of your arrest. This means, if you are driving a vehicle and you get arrested, the officer has the authority to search the interior of your vehicle because it was under your immediate control. A search must be to secure any evidence that may easily be lost or destroyed and to determine whether there are weapons in the vicinity that someone could use to harm police if they resist arrest. Timing is a factor. This search must take place at the same time as the arrest.

4.Investigatory Search- After a vehicle has been impounded, your property is in the police's possession. Officers are expected to secure your property in order to ensure nothing is lost in the process. While checking the inventory within your vehicle, if evidence of a crime arises, then police can charge you with that crime and they have not violated your privacy rights.

5.Automobile Exception- Although you have privacy rights when you are in your vehicle, your privacy rights diminish due to the understanding that vehicles are on the open road and are subjected to regulations. Police may search a vehicle and any containers within the vehicle when they have probable cause to believe contraband or evidence of a crime is present anywhere inside.

6.Stop and Frisk- This area is most commonly identified when police are stopping brothers on the street and frisking them for weapons. This same concept transfers to your vehicle. If you are pulled over by an officer and the officer has reason to believe that a crime is taking place, the officer can order the occupants out of the car. Furthermore, if the officer has reason to believe that the person is armed and dangerous, the officer can do a limited pat down for weapons.

Exceptions to the warrant requirements create pathways that introduce brothers and sisters to the criminal justice system. Often, consent is the most commonly used pathway, however, any of the exceptions will provide the formal introduction.

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