Many drivers have had the sickening feeling of seeing flashing lights in their rearview mirror and knowing that they were being pulled over. There is much confusion surrounding what police officers are and are not allowed to do. This confusion has not been lessened by the recent events regarding the shooting of unarmed citizens by police officers and the following media frenzy. The right to be free from unreasonable governmental searches is guaranteed by the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, and it is important for you to understand your rights as a driver.
The short answer to the question “Can the police search my car during a traffic stop?” is that it depends. Generally, a police officer needs a warrant in order to search someone’s property, but cars are different. A police officer cannot legally search someone’s car as a normal part of a traffic stop for a minor infraction such as speeding or a broken taillight. However, an officer can search a car if he or she has probable cause to do so.
Probable cause can include when illegal substances are in “plain view.” Plain view means that an officer can search your vehicle if he or she sees an illegal substance (such as drugs) through the windows of the car. The officer may also be able to search the car if he or she smells drugs, including marijuana smoke. If an officer has reason to arrest a driver, he or she has the right to search the car after the arrest. This is called “search incident to arrest.” Police officers may also search a driver’s car if they have reason to suspect that the driver has been involved in a crime. This could include seeing blood in the car or on the driver, or other evidence of a likely crime.
“Exigent circumstances,” also allow an officer to search a vehicle. Exigent circumstances are “circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of the suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.”
Contact a Kane County Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges any evidence obtained in an illegal search may be inadmissible in court. That is why it is important for you to seek quality legal assistance. Contact an Elgin criminal defense attorney for a free consultation today.