One of the most fundamental values that people have in the United States is the right to privacy. One of the ways that this right is protected is through the 4th amendment of the Constitution, which states in part, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”
In other words, this amendment protects people from being unreasonably searched and stopped by police officers. Though this seems quite simple, it is a complex legal issue due to the interpretation of the meaning of “unreasonable.” In order to understand when a police officer has violated this right, we have to understand what constitutes an unreasonable stop and search.
What are Reasonable Searches?
A search is considered unreasonable when law enforcement searches a person or a person’s vehicle without at least one of these things:
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- The police have a search warrant.
- The police are relying on probable cause that evidence of a crime is present.
- The police search a car’s contents for inventory in accordance with standard procedures.
- There is a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the vehicle contained a weapon.
For a vehicle stop, the police only need to reasonably believe that a crime has taken place, which can be as small as a simple motor vehicle infraction. Once the vehicle has been stopped, there are certain exceptions that if certain circumstances are present, the police may search the vehicle without a warrant.
Types of Searches – Unreasonable Searches vs. Reasonable Searches
A police officer may search a vehicle that is stopped without a warrant if they have probable cause that the vehicle has criminal evidence. The officer must have probable cause that the evidence is connected to criminal activity or will help in the conviction of the individual, and there is probable cause to believe that the evidence is inside the vehicle. The police officer must be able to articulate this probable cause in a police report.
Another type of search is one that happens after an arrest. This warrantless search is allowed as long as the search occurs at the same time period as the arrest and the person arrested is present during the search. This search is acceptable in order to preserve the safety of the officer and allow the officer to ensure that there is nothing dangerous within the arrested person’s reach.
The third type of vehicle search can occur when the car is impounded. The police, in accordance with standard procedures, may search the car to take inventory of its contents. Lastly, a vehicle may be searched if the officer believes, based on reasonable and articulable suspicion, that the vehicle has a hidden or otherwise dangerous weapon that the suspect can get control of. This reasonable and articulable suspicion has to be based on specific facts that can be articulated by the officer.
Although people have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, there are several circumstances that do allow police officers to search a vehicle after a stop. Any person that is asked to give consent to a search has the right to say no. However, the police may do so anyway if one of the exceptions exists.
There is always the chance that the police are acting without authority and are violating a person’s rights by searching. However, it is always a good idea to articulate a lack of consent to search and preserve that on the record for a future court case. It is never a good idea to try and argue with the officer about their right to search or try and stop the officer from searching because this can easily escalate the situation and be not only legally damaging but also potentially dangerous.
If a person’s rights are violated due to law enforcement searching a vehicle unreasonably, a rule called the exclusionary rule prevents any evidence obtained from the unreasonable search to be included in the court case against that person, and the evidence cannot be used against them. This means that if incriminating evidence is obtained during an illegal search, it is “fruit from the poisonous tree,” and none of it can be introduced into a criminal trial.
If you are the victim of unreasonable searches by police and you have been charged with a crime or you think that your rights were violated after being searched by the police, you will need a lawyer who understands the legal procedures and complexities in your corner. Call Lady DUI today for assistance.