Recently there was a story of a man that was pulled over for a fairly insignificant traffic violation, and ended up facing serious drug charges after police officers searched his vehicle. Law enforcement officials stopped the man on I-77 North and, after spotting drug paraphernalia and marijuana in the vehicle, conducted a search which led to the discovery of more drugs. The story is interesting, as it highlights when law enforcement has the authority to search a vehicle. The following scenarios detail the conditions in which law enforcement can search your car.
When You Provide Consent
Regardless of the situation, if you provide consent for law enforcement to search your car, they have the authority to do it. Police officers often try to tell drivers that it is in their best interests to allow them to search the vehicle, but that is not usually the case. You are under no obligation to provide consent, and should never do so. If you provided consent while under duress, the search can be deemed illegal and any evidence gathered during the search is considered inadmissible, which can be devastating to the prosecution’s case.
When Evidence is in Plain View
In the most recent story, law enforcement officers stated that they saw marijuana and drug paraphernalia in the man’s vehicle. In that case, and any other instance in which there is evidence of criminal activity in plain view, police officers also have the authority to conduct a search without your consent. The term ‘in plain view’ means that the officer must be able to see the items from outside of the vehicle, without entering it.
When You are Arrested
Not all instances of arrests warrant a search of the vehicle. However, if you are arrested, law enforcement has the authority to search the immediate area of the car where you are located, usually around the driver’s seat. For example, if you are arrested for a DUI, officers may search your immediate vicinity for an open bottle of alcohol.
When Law Enforcement has Probable Cause
With the exception of the above scenarios, law enforcement must typically have probable cause to search your vehicle. Probable cause means that law enforcement has reason to suspect that a search would lead to finding evidence of criminal activity that has taken place, or is about to take place. While police must have probable cause to search your vehicle, it is just as important to understand that they must also have reasonable cause to stop you in the first place, as well.
Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers can Help You Beat the Charges
Being pulled over by the police is always a scary experience, but when law enforcement wants to search your car, the situation is even more serious. If you have been arrested after a police search of your vehicle, our Allentown criminal defense lawyers at van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin are here to help. We know that law enforcement officers sometimes conduct illegal searches, and how to prove it in your case to give you the best chance of success. Call us today at (215) 486-0123 or contact us online so we can start reviewing your case.