Know Your Rights: Legal Search and Seizure
It is fairly common knowledge that the citizens of the United States have rights protecting them against unlawful search and seizure by authorities. Your Fourth Amendment rights dictate that a law enforcement officer must have a warrant to search your home or car. And they have to have probable cause to even get the warrant. Evidence that is uncovered in an illegal search cannot be used in court or the prosecution risks compromising the entire case.
Vehicle Search and Seizure Exceptions
Your car falls under these Fourth Amendment rights, but the Supreme Court has ruled that there is a lesser expectation of privacy in a vehicle and thus, there are circumstances where you car can be legally searched.
The first and most obvious case, is when you give your consent. If they ask you to open the drunk, and you say OK and pop the trunk, then they are allowed to look in there. It can be uncomfortable to refuse a police officer’s inquiry to search, but you are allowed to do it. Similar to consent, there is a plain-view corollary that states anything that is plainly visible can be a cause for an exception.
Another common exception is “reasonable suspicion” of illegal behavior/contraband. If you are pulled over, and there are billows of marijuana smoke pouring out of your windows, the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you are in possession of marijuana (which may or may not be legal in your area).
Next time you’re pulled over, maybe you give consent to the office to search your vehicle. If you’ve got nothing to hide and you don’t mind, sure, why not—however do not feel like you must. It is important to know your rights and liberties. If you have been arrested than you NEED to know your rights, it may just help your case.