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What’s an unreasonable search during a traffic stop?

On Behalf of | Dec 11, 2023 | Criminal Defense

The Fourth Amendment gives people protective rights against unreasonable search and seizure. If the police search a home illegally, for example, then the evidence collected may not be usable in a court case. The same can be said if the police pull over a vehicle during a traffic stop and don’t have a reason to search a car but do so anyway.

The police do have a few ways to search a car during a traffic stop. Here’s what you should know:

What must the police have to search a vehicle?

For starters, the police could get a warrant. A warrant would allow the police to search a vehicle. The police may need to present a reason for a vehicle search to a judge. If approved, the warrant would give explicit details of when, where and how the vehicle search is conducted. Without a warrant, a search may violate a driver’s constitutional right against unreasonable searches

A warrant gives the police the right to search a car, but it isn’t always readily available. The police could, alternatively, ask a driver for their permission to search a car. The driver can refuse the search. If the police force a search, then they are abusing their power and violating the driver’s rights.

Or, the police may have probable cause to search the vehicle. The police would have reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle, which is evidence that a crime was or will be committed. Probable cause is grounds for an arrest or vehicle search. The police could, for instance, see a driver who has a weapon or an open bottle of alcohol in their car during the traffic stop. This may give the police probable cause to search the vehicle. 

Without permission, a warrant or probable cause, the police may not have reasons to lawfully search a vehicle. If a driver believes their legal rights were violated before or during an arrest, that may play a significant part in their defense.