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Know When Police Can Search Your Vehicle and Other Info. - and when They Can't American Motorists Should Understand Their Rights Under the Constitution Before Consenting to a Vehicle Search As Per The Fourth Amendment USC Etc.

According to the Fourth Amendment, a police officer must have probable cause to conduct a search. No warrant shall issue, unless the police officer can prove to a judge that he has probable cause to believe a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. When it comes to vehicle searches, the rules change. A police officer may not have enough time to obtain a warrant, so he may conduct a warrantless search.

Traffic Stop + A person could be driving on a public road and then commit a minor traffic infraction in front of a police officer. The traffic infraction gives the police officer probable cause to pull the driver over. The police officer may ask to see the person's driver's license and registration. With the driver's license, the police officer can check to see if the person has any outstanding warrants. These warrants could come from unpaid traffic tickets or even unpaid child support. If the police officer finds an outstanding warrant for the person, she will then arrest the person. Even though the police officer does not have warrant and lacks probable cause to believe that criminal evidence can be found in the person's vehicle, she can legally search that vehicle.

Arrest + According to New York v. Belton, when a person driving a vehicle or a passenger in the vehicle is arrested once the police officer has stopped the vehicle, the police officer may conduct a search of the passenger compartment of the vehicle without a warrant. The police officer can protect himself by ensuring that no dangerous weapons are within the arrestee's reach. The police officer cannot, however, search under the hood of the vehicle or inside the trunk of the vehicle, because the arrestee cannot easily reach these places to obtain a weapon that may be present.

Search Rules + If the police officer searches the passenger compartment of the car for weapons, she can only search in places a weapon could be found. For example, if the police officer is searching for a gun, she cannot search in an ashtray to find that gun. On the other hand, if a marijuana roach is in the ashtray in the officer's plain view, the officer can seize the evidence and charge the arrestee with possession of a controlled substance.

Impounded Vehicle + The police may search a vehicle that has been impounded. They do not need to obtain a warrant from a judge or even have probable cause to believe that evidence connected to a crime is located in the vehicle. The police may conduct this search simply because under the Fourth Amendment, a routine inventory search can be legally conducted without a showing of probable cause. If the police find contraband during the inventory search, they may seize that evidence and use it in a criminal proceeding against the owner of the car. In order for this type of search to be legal, the inventory search must be a standard procedure of the police department that conducts the search.

Constitutional rights protect American citizens against illegal search and seizure. In today's turbulent times it has never been more important for the average citizen to understand constitutional rights to protect against unwarranted searches. Most Americans own automobiles but many are not aware of when law enforcement officers have the right to search a vehicle including the trunk space. Specific laws determine just when and under what circumstances an officer can search the trunk of a car. In many cases, police officers have no right to search the trunk or interior of a vehicle during a routine traffic stop but recent statistics from the Bureau of Justice indicate that out of 19.3 million traffic stops, l.3 million motorists were searched but almost 90% of the searches yielded no incriminating evidence. These searches included both the vehicle's interior as well as the trunk.

Most citizens are familiar with warrants and a police officer with a warrant must be allowed to search home, property, or vehicles. However, it's important to remember that to obtain a warrant; the officer must provide a higher authority with probable or just cause.

Searches without a warrant are permissible by law under some circumstances and these include:
• Consent searches. Any citizen who agrees voluntarily to a search by officers waives his or her rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. Any incriminating materials or evidence found during a consent search provides law enforcement officers with the right to detain, arrest, and confiscate.

• Plain View Rule. If a motorist is stopped for a traffic violation and he or she has an illegal substance or possession (i.e. drugs or a weapon) in plain view, an officer does not require a search warrant to investigate further.

• Searches made in connection with a legal arrest. If a motorist is arrested for driving under the influence, then a search of his or her vehicle is permissible under law.

• Exigent circumstances. This type of search is more difficult to narrow down but can be performed at any time an officer feels that swift action is necessary to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage or if officers fear that important evidence is about to be destroyed.

• Probable cause. If an officer has reason to believe that a crime is or has been committed, he or she has the authority to search. Examples might include bank robbers with a back seat full of money bags or a vehicle filled with marijuana smoke although no drug is visible.

Although the right to refuse an officer's request to search a vehicle including the contents of the trunk is one held by every American citizen, if involved in an encounter with a police officer, each individual must determine whether or not to comply or refuse if the situation is not allowable. To refuse can often cause suspicion or lead to additional legal difficulties. If certain he or she is innocent and has nothing illegal, consenting to a search may expedite a traffic stop. Whether or not to consent to a warrant less search that does not meet any of the listed criteria is an individual one.

Although officers are required to inform every arrested individual of the Miranda Rights, officers are not bound to inform citizens whether or not a requested search is allowed by law. Officers sometimes may ask citizens to cooperate and while cooperation helps both the officer and the individual, citizens are not required to submit to a search unless it meets the previously listed criteria.

Law abiding average citizens have little to fear from an unanticipated search of a car trunk but it's wise to know the rights of search as guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

Can the Police Search My Car ? The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches. The amendment applies to government agents, like police officers. It does not apply to searches by private individuals. This protection extends to automobile searches, but it is not absolute. However, if a court finds that evidence was taken during an unlawful vehicle search, the court will not allow the prosecution to use that evidence. Searches and Your Expectation of Privacy A "search" can occur when a governmental agent intrudes in an area where you have a "reasonable expectation of privacy." Deciding a "reasonable expectation of privacy" involves two questions. First, did you have an actual - meaning subjective or in your own mind - expectation of privacy? Second, would the subjective expectation of privacy be reasonable to an objective, uninvolved person? Consent to Search

In certain situations, you may refuse to let a governmental agent search your vehicle. The agent is not required to inform you of your right to refuse. If you agree to the search, it must be voluntary - meaning you weren't under pressure to comply. You also have the right to limit where the agent can search - the trunk but not the glove box, for example. You are free to change your mind at any time, even after the search has started. Probable Cause to Search

A government agent with probable cause can search your car without you agreeing. Probable cause means a reason to believe the car more than likely contains evidence related to a crime. A routine traffic stop can develop into probable cause to search the vehicle. After pulling a car over for a traffic violation, a police officer might notice that the driver matches the description of someone suspected of stealing parts from automobiles. The officer also notices automobile parts in the back seat. These additional facts most likely create probable cause for the police officer to search the vehicle. Search Incident to Lawful Arrest

When a police officer makes a lawful arrest, the officer may search not only the arrested person but also the area immediately around the arrested person - like the car the person was traveling in just before the arrest. However, this only applies if the person is arrested. If the driver is only given a traffic ticket, the police officer cannot search the vehicle. If a police officer has the choice to either issue a ticket or make an arrest, the officer must make the arrest in order to search the car. A Criminal Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding searches of vehicles is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.

You are driving home after a night out. The evening's memories are quickly put to rest by the sight of flashing lights behind you. In a moment, you find yourself responding to the orders of a police officer. You show him your registration, allow him to glance around with his flashlight, even step out. Then he asks that you pop the trunk. You may be wondering if the police officer has the right to ask you to do this and whether you have the right to say no. Well, the answer is: it depends.

The Fourth Amendment Protects Us from Unreasonable Search & Seizure

The Fourth Amendment, as it is generally understood, protects you from unreasonable search and seizure. The Supreme Court has looked at a number of cases involving Fourth Amendment rights and warrantless searches. In most instances, the officer can conduct a search if they have probable cause to do so. This is essentially a hunch backed up by reasonable suspicion. There may be something in your behavior, your physical appearance, or the physical appearance of your vehicle that would prompt an officer to search.

For example, you might have been pulled over because you were driving erratically. However, a smell coming from the car or signs of slowed reflexes on your part may have indicated you are using some type of drug or alcohol. If the officer decided to search your car from glove box to trunk based on the suspicion that you are using and possibly transporting an illegal substance, this would be probable cause.

Search & Seizure of Cars

Other cases involving the search of cars have involved the "plain view" standard and the right of police to search passengers' belongings found in a car. In Chimel v.California, the court held that police may search the person and all areas under a person's control or reach. Anything in "plain view" can be seized. This standard includes car searches. In Wyoming v. Houghton (1999), the court ruled that if the officer has probable cause to search the car, they can also inspect passengers' belongings. The idea is that the item, a purse for example, might conceal the object of an officer's search.

Search & Seizure of the Trunk of a Car

The same reasoning can be applied in the case of a trunk. It would be in control of the car's driver, and barring some unusual circumstance, within his or her reach. A trunk generally conceals its contents. So, an officer may look there if there is a belief that what he is searching for might be in the trunk.

No Warrant is Required to Search a Car

Another point on law enforcement's side is that cars are generally excepted from the advance warrant requirement because of their mobile nature. This gives them license to conduct warrantless searches of cars. An officer only has to meet the probable cause standard in most instances. This is relatively easy to do. Proving that an officer did not have probable cause is much more difficult and has only succeeded in a few cases. Most of those cases have involved racial profiling of some type, lack of consent, or a small exception in the public's favor...traffic violations.

The Supreme Court ruled in Knowles v. Iowa that police cannot search a driver or passengers after ticketing them for routine traffic violations. In its decision, the Court said that a traffic violation is not an "arrest." Police officers' ability to conduct searches is limited so you would not be in their custody. The probable cause argument is also diluted in this case. Ticketing you for turning right at a red light does not give an officer probable cause to search you or your car. Traffic violations are not inherently connected to any other criminal activity. This voids a claim of "reasonable suspicion" on the officer's part.

This was a small win on the part of individual rights. Interestingly, Fourth Amendment questions are frequently part of the court's docket and more exceptions may be coming. In the mean time, it is probably best not to carry anything in your trunk you wouldn't want a police officer to see.

Pa. high court rules police no longer need warrant to search vehicles Feb 2014 ?

Pennsylvania police officers no longer need a warrant to search a citizen’s vehicle, the state’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Drivers in the state used to be able to refuse a warrantless search, but now their vehicles can be subject to search when a police officer determines there is “reasonable probable cause” to do so, the Intelligencer Journal reported.

The high court’s ruling, passed on a 4-2 vote, is being called a drastic change in citizens’ rights and police authority, the paper said.

“This is a significant change in long-standing Pennsylvania criminal law, and it is a good one,” said Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman. “This case gives the police simpler guidelines to follow and (it) finally and clearly renders our law consistent with established federal law.”

“It is a ruling that helps law enforcement as they continue to find people in possession of illegal drugs,” said New Holland police Lt. Jonathan Heisse.

But critics say the ruling gives too much power to the police and will infringe on citizens’ privacy.

“It’s an expanding encroachment of government power,” defense attorney Jeffrey Conrad told the paper. “It’s a protection we had two days ago, that we don’t have today. It’s disappointing from a citizens’ rights perspective.”

In a dissent, Justice Debra Todd said the decision “contravenes over 225 years of unyielding protection against unreasonable search and seizure.” She calls the change “diametrically contrary to the deep historical and legal traditions” of Pennsylvania.

When Police Can Search Your Car People often ask me under what circumstances are police allowed to search their car. They are usually wondering about searches made during stops for speeding or other traffic code violations.

Generally, a warrant is required to search your property. However, there are exceptions for automobiles. The main rationale for the exceptions is that since cars are mobile, they will be gone before an officer can get a warrant to search from a judge. A secondary rationale is that since cars are on public streets, drivers should have a reduced expectation of privacy compared to their homes. Exception to Warrant

The automobile exception to the warrant requirement has two parts:

1. If the police have probable cause that the car contains something illegal like a prohibited weapon or drugs, then they may search the car. Or if the police have probable cause that the car contains the tools used to commit a crime or the proceeds or evidence of a crime, then they may search the car.

Under this part of the exception, the officer can only search the part of the car where what he is looking for may be found.

So if a police officer pulls a driver over for speeding and smells marijuana, he may search the entire car for the drug, including any containers like cups or purses. But if he has probable cause to believe that you have an assault rifle in the car, he could only search where the gun could be hidden and not, say, in a thermos.

2. If an officer makes a lawful arrest of the driver of the car, he may make a warrantless search of the passenger compartment of the car. This search includes the glove compartment but not the trunk.

Note: an officer may always search your car without a warrant if you consent to the search. Sometimes police will pose the question with the implication that you do not have the legal right to refuse. However, you can refuse to consent.

And sometimes a police officer will search your car and then say that you consented when you did not. In a trial, your lawyer can move to suppress whatever the officer found that was illegal, and it will be your word versus the officer’s about whether you consented to the search.

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