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When can the police legally search my vehicle?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2021 | Drug charges

Many people who are charged with drug crimes were arrested based on evidence of illegal drug possession or distribution found in their vehicles. However, some of this evidence may have be acquired unlawfully, as the search conducted by the police may have been illegal under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. If an officer conducted an illegal search of your vehicle, any evidence collected during the search may be thrown out in court due to the violation of your constitutional rights.

When is a vehicle search legal?

Generally, police are legally allowed to search your vehicle only in a few specific situations. An officer can search your vehicle if they have consent, a valid search warrant, probable cause, legitimate concern for their own safety, and if they have lawfully arrested you and need to search your vehicle for evidence relating to the arrest

In many cases involving unlawful search and seizures, the officer lacked the probable cause to conduct the search. Probable cause refers to a legitimate belief that someone in the vehicle or the vehicle itself was involved or will be involved in a crime. Officers cannot legally search a vehicle based on a ‘hunch’ or ‘bad feeling.’

Seizing evidence in ‘plain view’

Officers may search your vehicle without a valid warrant, if they see drugs or drug paraphernalia in ‘plain view.’ For example, a routine traffic stop, can result in an arrest on drug charges, if the officer looks in the window of the vehicle, sees drugs in the vehicle, and conducts a search of the vehicle for additional evidence. However, they can only search for evidence relating to the initial ‘plain view’ discovery.

An unlawful arrest could result in the suppression of any evidence found during the arrest, and eventually lead to the dismissal of your criminal charges. Georgia criminal defense attorneys can review the facts of your case and determine whether your arrest was lawful.