You are driving on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and suddenly hear a police siren. You are being pulled over. A police officer approaches your vehicle and asks to conduct a quick search. What do you do? What rights do you have?
You Have Rights Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
According to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you have the right to be free from unreasonable searches of your person and property. What exactly constitutes an “unreasonable search” has been subject to numerous cases argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Multiple factors are considered in assessing the reasonableness, and thereby the Constitutionality, of a particular search.
Your Vehicle is Not a Private Space
Your car is treated differently from your home and a body search. This is because your vehicle is used to travel on public highways and roads. It is a mobile mechanism not confined to a set area of property owned by you.
Three Types of Searches
Generally, if a police officer asks to search your vehicle, they are basing it on three different types of searches. A “search incident to an arrest” allows a police officer to search you, the driver, and the immediate area around you within the vehicle when the police have probable cause to place you under arrest.
A second type of search is an “inventory search.” This type of search is allowed when the police arrest you and impound your vehicle. This is considered more of an administrative search since police must list the items in the impounded car in order to avoid civil liability for the loss or damage of property contained in your vehicle.
The third type of search is a “probable cause search.” This type of search is allowed when the police have a “reasonable suspicion” that there may be a weapon, illegal substance, or other evidence of a crime for which the police stopped you. So, for example, if police pull you over because they received a report of a vehicle fleeing a convenience store after robbing it, they may be able to perform this search if they have probable cause to believe that you, or someone in your vehicle, was the individual involved in the robbery.
Was a Beer Can or Weapon in Plain View?
If the police stop you for expired tags but the officer sees a bag of heroin on the passenger seat, you are not going to drive off with a warning. A police officer has the right to perform a visual scan of the interior of your vehicle and if they see something illegal, they can perform a more detailed search of your vehicle.
This is known as the “plain view doctrine.” Basically, it stands for the principle that a police officer can conduct a search based on anything in their “plain view.”
Speak to a Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
As you can see, a police officer may have the right to search your vehicle, but they must have a legal basis to do so. They cannot simply walk up to your vehicle and being conducting an invasive search. You have rights and if the police officer conducted an unconstitutional search of your vehicle, you may have a valid defense to fight a charge that may arise from the search. If this happened to you or a loved one, contact the Skier Law Firm in Florida for a free, confidential consultation.