Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, people have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures by police officers and other government officials. This right extends not only to your person but also to other areas, such as your home and your vehicle.
In order for a police officer to be able to lawfully search your vehicle without a warrant, his or her justification for the search must fall under one of seven exceptions to the usual warrant requirement. If no such exception applies, then the officer needs a search warrant to be able to search your vehicle lawfully.
If a police officer engaged in an unconstitutional search of your vehicle, any evidence which he or she obtained pursuant to that search could be suppressed. This, in turn, could result in your criminal charge – or your entire criminal case – being dismissed.
Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer Lauren Campoli can investigate the circumstances behind your vehicle search and could help you defend against your pending charge.
Exceptions to the Usual Warrant Requirement
Under most circumstances, in order for a police officer to undertake a search of your motor vehicle, he or she must have a validly issued search warrant in-hand. Under some circumstances, however, the officer might be able to search your vehicle without the need for a warrant. Those exceptions include the following:
- Objects in plain view
If a police officer stops your vehicle following a lawful traffic stop (such as speeding or running a red light), the officer can seize any incriminating evidence in the vehicle that is readily apparent and observable by him or her. For the officer to be able to seize the evidence, it must also be readily apparent that the evidence is illegal. For example, if the officer sees a bag of marijuana in the back seat, he or she could seize that evidence and arrest the driver accordingly.
- Search incident to a lawful arrest
A police officer could lawfully search the occupant in a motor vehicle and/or the vehicle’s passenger area if, at the time the person was arrested, he or she had ready access to any containers present in the vehicle and/or the vehicle’s passenger area – or if the officer has a reasonable belief that incriminating evidence related to the arrest could be present somewhere in the vehicle.
- An inventory search of the vehicle
Following the towing or impoundment of the subject vehicle, a police officer could likely undertake an inventory search of that vehicle. Although an inventory search may not proceed for the specific purpose of locating evidence in the vehicle, if drugs or other incriminating items happen to be recovered during the search, that evidence could be used against you in court.
- Probable cause
Although in most cases, a police officer needs both probable cause and a warrant to undertake a lawful search, the officer can search a vehicle with just probable cause if he or she reasonably believes that there is criminal evidence secured at some location in the vehicle.
- Consent by the driver
If the driver of the motor vehicle specifically consents to a search of the vehicle, then it is not necessary for the officer to obtain a search warrant prior to undertaking his or her search of the subject vehicle.
- Search for weapons
If a police officer undertakes a valid traffic stop, he or she has a right to conduct a general pat-down search of the driver’s outer clothing. This limited search also extends to the vehicle passenger area and could include bags or containers present in the vehicle.
- Medical emergency
Where a medical emergency exists, an officer may be able to search a motor vehicle without first obtaining a warrant.
The bottom line is that police officer and other government officials cannot search your vehicle without a warrant unless there are exceptions to this rule. Any evidence obtained against you in an unconstitutional search can be proven as void, resulting in the possible dismissal of the entire matter. Only a skillful Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer can get you such an outcome. After all, it is always a good idea to build a strong criminal defense in your case.
Hire an Experienced Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If your vehicle was searched and you are facing criminal charges, let Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer Lauren Campoli review the facts and determine whether the police violated your rights. Ms. Campoli is among the 3 percent of attorneys in Minnesota who has been certified as a Criminal Law Specialist and is committed to protecting the rights of the accused. To schedule a free case evaluation and legal consultation with a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney, please call us at (612) 352-9303 or contact us online today.