Most of us have been pulled over by the police at some point in our lives; some of us have had automobile stops resulting in the issuing of a traffic ticket while others have been released with just a warning. Police Officers must have reasonable suspicion to pull a person over. Reasonable suspicion requires specific and articulable facts taken together with rational inferences from those facts that lead the police to believe that a law is being broken or has been broken by the suspect.
Furthermore, the police may search a vehicle without a warrant. Generally a warrantless search is per se unreasonable and violative of the 4th amendment. However, there is an automobile exception that allows for the search of a vehicle without a warrant. But, in order to conduct a warrantless search there must be probable cause to believe the automobile contains evidence of a crime and there are exigent circumstances arising out of the mobility of the automobile and its likelihood of disappearing if the search is not executed immediately. The Court will look to the attending circumstances to determine whether the police officer had probable cause to search the vehicle. If the police are to conduct a warrantless search they must only reach to the areas of the vehicle that they have probable cause to believe the contraband or other evidence may be found. If the police illegally obtain evidence (without probable cause) from an automobile vehicle, it is inadmissible in both state and federal courts against the defendant whose rights were taken away.
For example, a police officer may lawfully stop you when he believes you have been drinking based on the fact that you have been swerving all over the road. If the officer finds a beer can in plain view in your cup holder he may then search for more evidence of beer in your vehicle any where beer may reasonably be concealed. But, that is all the police officer may search for, legally. In a recent South Carolina case, State v. Brown, the Court held in this case that a bag which appeared to be a gym bag or a duffel bag used to travel, should not have been subject to the search. The Court reasoned that the bag was zipped up and appeared to carry clothing. The Court further noted had the bag looked like a grocery bag, the search of the bag would be proper because you would expect to find beer in a grocery bag. In this case, the police officer found cocaine in the duffle bag and sought to introduce the evidence at trial. The court ultimately held the search of the duffle bag was improper and thus the evidence of cocaine must be excluded from trial.
If you have found yourself in a similar situation where a police officer searched containers or areas of your vehicle unlawfully, then contact Daniel Selwa to explore your available options. Where the evidence of an unlawful search is excluded from trial, the charges against you for possession of that contraband must be dropped. Without a skilled criminal defense attorney, you could face serious fines and possible jail time. Contact criminal defense attorney Daniel A. Selwa, II today.