Villarini & Henry, L.L.P.
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Searches and seizures prove legal with probable cause

To protect the privacy and the rights of individuals' property, the Fourth Amendment makes it illegal for police officers to conduct unreasonable searches and seizures. However, in some instances, citizens prove subject to searching of their vehicles without a warrant if probable cause exists.

Understand the exceptions to your rights during a New York traffic stop.

Fourth Amendment protection

The Fourth Amendment determines that citizens hold the undeniable right to "be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures". The law also confirms that by use of probable cause and a warrant, an officer may check and take an individual's property.

Many citizens believe that the only way police officers may search a vehicle is through a warrant. Yet multiple scenarios exist for officers to engage in a search of your car legally without one.

The automobile exception and circumstances

Understanding that officers engage in searches and seizures of vehicles for the safety of the public proves crucial. Should your actions constitute the need for a search, police officers have the law behind them according to the Automobile Exception agreement.

Police officers may search a vehicle more readily than a home because driving a vehicle on public roads while drinking, on drugs or breaking any other law exhibits a massive public safety hazard. Police officers may search your vehicle without a warrant in the following situations.

1. You give the officer consent.

2. The officer has probable cause to believe your vehicle contains evidence of a crime.

  • A handgun on the passenger's seat, an empty alcohol bottle visibly in a cup holder or the smell of marijuana may legally give way to a search and seizure.

3. The officer believes that a search proves necessary for their own safety.

  • Gesturing that you may have a gun or making explicit threats to a police officer may give them an opportunity to search your vehicle.

4. You were arrested and the search is related to that arrest.

  • Police officers have access to all previous criminal activity. If you were previously detained and convicted of an illegal drug charge or kidnapping, officers may have the ability to legally search your car.

5. Exigent circumstances exist.

  • If an officer believes that before a warrant is obtained that evidence in the vehicle will be destroyed, such as consuming contraband, officers may prove it necessary to search immediately.

Knowing that specific laws do not always apply before arguing with an officer proves extremely important. Should an officer have a warrant or probable cause to search your vehicle, it may be deemed legal for him or her to do so. Take comfort in understanding that any evidence obtained illegally in your vehicle may not be admissible in court.

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