There’s a lot of confusion out there about whether or not police officers are allowed to search your vehicle at a traffic stop. The confusion largely stems from the fact that search warrants are typically required for most searches. Unfortunately, some law enforcement officers take advantage of this confusion by pressuring drivers into giving consent for their vehicle to be searched. If you live in Nevada and have been charged with a crime after being stopped and searched by police, certain evidence that was obtained could be suppressed by the court if it turns out that the officer violated your Fourth Amendment rights. If you’re being charged with a crime, it’s important that you call an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately.
Understanding Your Fourth Amendment Rights
The first step to understanding when and if a police officer can legally search your vehicle is to know your rights under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Put simply, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. Without this amendment, law enforcement officers could search people’s homes, cars and even their bodies whenever they pleased. They could also seize any evidence they found during such searches and use it in court to convict people of crimes. Needless to say, this would wreak havoc on citizens’ rights and would give police far too much power.
Under the Fourth Amendment, there are rules that police and others must follow when it comes to searches and seizures. In the vast majority of cases, the only lawful way for a police officer to perform a search of any kind is by obtaining a search warrant first. In Nevada, a cop would need to present a judge with sufficient evidence to obtain a search warrant. However, there isn’t always time to do this. When a crime is actively occurring, an officer can’t stop what he’s doing to ask a judge for a warrant. Therefore, there’s one important exception to the protection against unreasonable searches and seizures: probable cause.
Based on what you now know about the Fourth Amendment, you may assume that police are never allowed to search your vehicle. As noted above, however, a cop who is actively investigating a crime in progress wouldn’t have time to obtain a search warrant from a judge. Therefore, if the officer believes there is probable cause that a criminal activity is taking place, he is permitted to perform a search. Here’s the thing, though: It can’t just be a hunch.
For probable cause to exist in the eyes of the court, an officer must observe something specific that leads him to believe that a crime is taking place. In the context of being stopped while driving, minor traffic violations do not generally qualify as probable cause. In other words, if you’re stopped for speeding, the cop would be violating your Fourth Amendment rights if he proceeded to search your vehicle without your consent. However, if he smelled something like marijuana or saw something like an open can of beer, probable cause would exist, and he would not need your consent to legally search your vehicle.
Consenting to a Vehicle Search
Like many people, you may believe that you can be penalized for refusing to consent to a search of your vehicle. That isn’t the case at all. Refusing to consent to a search is not an admission of guilt. Cops know this all too well, but that doesn’t always stop them from attempting to obtain consent from confused and sometimes frightened citizens. Some cops casually ask drivers if it’s okay for them to take a look, and drivers unwittingly give consent without realizing they aren’t legally required to do so. As soon as consent is given, unfortunately, the search is automatically rendered legal.
Were You Unlawfully Searched?
If you live in Nevada and are facing charges based on evidence that was obtained during a search of your vehicle, it could very well be that the search violated your Fourth Amendment rights. That’s particularly true if you didn’t clearly give consent to the search. The best legal defense in this scenario would be for your lawyer to file a motion to suppress any evidence that was obtained during the unlawful search. If the judge agrees, your case might even be thrown out entirely. With all of this in mind, don’t assume that the charges against you are valid or that the evidence that was collected was legally obtained. Call the Weiner Law Group today at 702-202-0500 or fill out our contact form for a consultation.