All US citizens carry with them the right of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. This right is protected under the Fourth Amendment. This protects their person and their property, including their car. Your car is generally less protected under the Fourth Amendment than your house as it holds a different legal status than a home. Some people may not realize that this right has clear limits to how it can protect you. It is important to note that your right to freedom from an unreasonable search and seizure is only preserved in cases where there is no probable cause for the search or seizure. A police officer can legally search your car if he or she has probable cause to do so. Probable cause in the case of a car search is having reason to believe that there is evidence retrievable or observable in the car that demonstrates or proves criminal activity took or would have taken place. Basically, a police officer can search your car if he or she has reason to believe there is criminal evidence in the car or that you were committing or planning to commit criminal acts. A police officer may find probable cause to search your car if they see evidence of criminal activity in plain view in your car, he or she believes their safety is at risk because of what you may have in your car or if they see you committing a crime in your car. With no apparent evidence of criminal activity, they may not have the right to search your car.
It is important to note that an officer may use a detection canine outside of your car without violating your rights. The area immediately outside of your car is not protected as your property under the Fourth Amendment so they are free to use detection methods to discover the probable cause to search. If the detection canine picks up on something, such as drugs or explosives, your car could be legally searched. Similarly, if you are stopped at a sobriety checkpoint, the police officer may shine a flashlight quickly in your car to see if any evidence of alcohol consumptions is present. Detecting something plainly visible in your car is not an unreasonable search and seizure. However, if they asked you to step out of the car and proceeded to search through your glove box, under your seats or in your trunk, and they had no probable cause or a search warrant to do so, the search is illegal. A police officer may also search your car with a warrant, with your permission, after an arrest is made, where their search is related to the arrest, or when your car has been legally impounded. If a police officer asks if they can search your car, you are allowed to ask them why they want to perform the search and on what basis. If they have a warrant, you can ask them to read it to you or if they do not have one, you can ask them to explain the probable cause off of which they are searching your car. Police officers should comply with this and give you a clear explanation for their reasoning.
Probable cause is not always straightforward. If your car has been searched and you have reason to believe the officer searched it without probable cause, and they had no warrant, consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. If you are facing criminal charges as a result of the car search, but the search was done illegally, the evidence found in your car being held against you in the case may be deemed inadmissible as evidence. This could result in criminal charges against you being dropped. However, it is crucial you discuss the matter with an experienced criminal defense attorney before you appear in court to defend yourself. You have a right to unreasonable search and seizure so it is important you exercise that right if your person, property or car has been illegally searched.
If you are in the Tulare, Fresno or Kings County area and have had your car searched, call experienced Visalia area criminal defense attorney Christopher Martens today for expert counsel. At The Law Offices of Christopher Martens, we will evaluate your case facts and can help fight any charges you face as a result of your car being searched. Contact our Visalia or Hanford offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] to discuss a possible plan of action for your case.