Police will usually try to do everything that they can to have a reason and an excuse to execute a search without a warrant. Whether it is for convenience or effectiveness, they want to be able to search you right now as opposed to having to show probable cause for a search warrant from a magistrate. While this may conflict with your constitutional rights, there are circumstances in which law enforcement can conduct a warrantless search. This includes being able to search your car at times without a warrant. If law enforcement has conducted a search without a warrant, contact Hogan Eickhoff today!

Searches Fall Under the Fourth Amendment

First, we will start with the language of the Constitution and how it has been interpreted by courts. Your rights come from the Fourth Amendment. Here, the Constitution discusses…

…”The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The Constitution then qualifies this by this right requires officers to have a warrant supported by probable cause to execute a search.

Pay very close attention to this language. It does not prohibit all searches without a warrant but just unreasonable ones. It follows that there are some circumstances in which officers can subject you to a search without a warrant. When it comes to searching your car, they can find a number of reasons. In other words, there are exceptions to the Fourth Amendment.

The key is that the Fourth Amendment tries to balance your individual rights with probable cause of a crime. When police have a reasonable suspicion, they are given more liberties than they otherwise would have, and it comes at the expense of your rights to be free from a warrantless search.

Search Incident to Arrest

Police actually have more of an ability to execute a warrantless search of your car than they would of your home for a number of reasons. The first is that law enforcement has the ability to execute a search incident to an arrest. This means that police can look anywhere into the car where they think that the suspect can reach during the arrest. They might then find things during that initial search that allow them to look further into the rest of the car.

The usual rule is that, when arresting a suspect, the police can look into the immediate area under the suspect’s control. This is to protect police in case the suspect has the ability to reach for a weapon. However, giving a driver a ticket for a routine traffic stop is not an arrest that would permit a search of the car.

Search of a Vehicle with Probable Cause

While police cannot search your car anytime they stop you for breaking a traffic law, they do not need much to “grow” the stop into something that would result in a search of your car. All police really need to do is say that the driver or a passenger of the car is acting “suspiciously,” and they could try to search the car. It is not a very high bar, and it is a way that police officers try to get into your car during a routine traffic stop.

Here, the standard would be that police have probable cause to believe that there is a crime happening in your vehicle. Probable cause is more than just a hunch. It is a belief based on articulable facts. A police officer’s experience with similar situations can often be used to justify warrantless searches.

However, even here, there are limits. For example, if you are not in the car and not in reach of a weapon, the law may protect you. While you have less of a privacy interest in your vehicle, you still have some shield from an illegal search.

Other Fourth Amendment Exceptions

You can expect that the police officer will be looking closely into your car from the moment that they stop you. This is because there is an exception to the warrant requirement for things that can be seen in plain view. This initial look into your car would try to find things on the seats that could give the officers probable cause to search even further. However, the further away from plain view an area is, the less likely officers can execute a warrantless search.

Nonetheless, if officers find something in a more limited plain view search, they have another way to get into your trunk and the rest of the car. If they have probable cause to arrest you and impound the car, they can then search the rest of the car and do an inventory of its contents.

While you have a reduced expectation of privacy in your car, police do not have unlimited rights. Oftentimes, the evidence that they find during these searches is what makes the difference in your criminal case. Therefore, if you can successfully challenge the evidence and have it thrown out, you may be able to win acquittal in your case. Police cannot use any evidence against you that they get from an illegal search. When the police violate your constitutional rights, any evidence they gather can often be dismissed as “fruit of the poisonous tree.”

However, you can expect that law enforcement will do everything that they can to justify what the officers did at the scene of your arrest. They will almost never admit to an illegal search but will try to come up with some sort of reason why it was valid. This is why you need an Appleton criminal defense lawyer to help protect your rights by introducing a motion to throw out evidence that was illegally obtained. Police often take liberties when it comes to searching cars, but their rights are not unlimited.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Appleton

If you have been arrested, you need a criminal lawyer to protect your rights. If you were subjected to an illegal search, it could result in the court dismissing the case against you. Call the criminal attorneys of Hogan Eickhoff at (920) 450-9800 or contact us online to set up your free initial consultation.