Reasonable Suspicion and The Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable search and seizures by law enforcement. In California, vehicle searches are very common, but many people fail to realize what constitutes an illegal search by law enforcement. Therefore, it is important to understand the Fourth Amendment and what rights citizens in California have. In this article, we are going to look specifically at searches related to vehicles.
In most cases, police or law enforcement need a search warrant to perform a search. However, there are specific instances where that is not necessary. One example is a vehicle search. Instead, officers can use probable cause or reasonable suspicion in order to search your vehicle.
Understanding the Basics of a Legal Search
The Fourth Amendment’s rule against unreasonable searches and seizures mean the police cannot search you or your vehicle unless one of the following is true.
- They’ve obtained a search warrant from a judge
- Search falls within one of a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement
In most routine vehicle searches, the police do not obtain a warrant but rather rely on one of the exceptions to that requirement. Many of these exceptions have been found to serve as probable cause to suspect a crime is being committed.
Traffic Stops and Subsequent Searches
The Fourth Amendment protects your privacy generally, so an officer can’t simply pull a driver over for no reason. Instead, the officer must be able to articulate specific facts that led him to suspect that a crime was taking place. These facts are frequently referred to as probable cause or reasonable suspicion. There is vast case law laying out many different situations that would constitute probable cause to legally justify a traffic stop and potentially a search of your vehicle without a warrant.
Police may justify a stop of your vehicle based on legal violations they can see in plain view. For example, like expired registration tags or infractions committed while driving. Once your vehicle stopped, they may justify a search if they observe evidence of contraband in your vehicle like guns or drugs. They can also search your vehicle if one of the occupants is on parole or probation under certain circumstances. Police also frequently conduct searches incident to arrest or search your entire vehicle once it’s been impounded.
Contact the Fourth Amendment Lawyers at The Nieves Law Firm
As you can see, the law of search and seizure is complex and requires a talented and experienced attorney. If you feel your privacy rights were violated during a police search of your vehicle in the Bay Area or Sacramento, call us for a consultation and we can assess whether you have a motion to suppress the evidence against you. A successful motion to suppress could lead to a dismissal in some cases, freeing you from conviction or punishment.