Seeing that blue light in the rear view mirror and getting pulled over by the police is always intimidating. What happens next is very important to the outcome of the case. It could mean the difference between a guilty or innocent verdict.
The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable “searches and seizures.” It states that search warrants shall only be issued when there is “probable cause” and that the warrant should describe the place where the search will take place as well as the persons or items to be seized.
The Motor Vehicle Exception
In the U.S., the motor vehicle exception means that a car can normally be searched without a search warrant. However, certain conditions must be met:
* A police officer might ask for permission to search a car after a stop for a routine traffic offense. It’s usually best to politely refuse permission for a search. If permission is given, anything found is admissible in court.
* Evidence is Plainly Visible:
* If the officer can see an open can of beer or drugs, it is permissible for the officer to search the passenger compartment, including the glove compartment and console. A pat-down search is also allowed. Anything found is admissible in court.
* Probable Cause:
* If there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, the police can search the car. Answers given to an officer’s questions could become probable cause, which is one reason why it is best to remain silent. Probable cause is not a “hunch,” but could include 911 calls, information from informants, “alerts” by a police dog or observations by the officer. Being stopped for a minor traffic violation is not enough for probable cause.
* After an Arrest:
* The police can search the car or the person’s body after an arrest.
* The Officer’s Safety:
* If the officer feels threatened, such as by a possible concealed weapon, the officer is allowed to search the vehicle.
* Impounded Vehicles:
* If a vehicle has been towed and impounded, the police can conduct a comprehensive search. However, the police are not allowed to impound a vehicle simply to search it.
Protect Your Rights
Call a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia to discuss the specific facts of your case.
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