Finding yourself stopped by a police officer is often intimidating. It’s even more stressful when a police officer demands a search of your vehicle. It can be a non-issue if the situation is approached with calm and reasonable compliance under the law. It’s important to know that law enforcement officials have limits when probing through a car for evidence of a crime. These rights fall under the 1791 Bill of Rights, Fourth Amendment. Let’s take a closer look.
The Fourth Amendment
The search of a vehicle is an invasion of personal property. Citizens have personal protection rights under the Fourth Amendment against illegal searches. The amendment basically states that a judge-issued warrant is needed to search and seize private property. If suspected of a crime and sufficient evidence exists, law enforcement officials can search under “probable cause.” An officer can’t seize objects nor have probable cause for lane swerving, outdated car registrations or a loud muffler.
Plain View or Concealed
Plain view is a legal term that allows law enforcement officials permission to search and seize contents within a vehicle without a warrant if the evidence is within visible sight. A personal vehicle and its contents are considered private possessions. Objects out of plain view are locked or placed in concealed areas of the car.
Citizens possessing a legal drivers licenses and driving on public roads have agreed to a limited removal of some rights. This is known as “lowered expectations of privacy law.” The 1925 law placed limits and conditional restrictions on some of the Fourth Amendment rights. These limits were placed for the safety and protection of citizens on public roadways.
At the time of a traffic stop, police officers can seize objects without a warrant if suspicious contents or evidence of a crime are plainly heard, smelled and/or within public view. Self acknowledgement of guilt to a specific crime justifies law enforcement officials to exercise search, seizure and custody under probable cause. Any seized objects will be used against the individual in court.
Steps To Take If Stopped
Unfortunately, there are police officers that use intimidation and forceful tactics against citizens who have been stopped for minor traffic infractions. Before any arrest, search and seizure, citizens must know to exercise their Fourth Amendment rights. Following a few simple steps secures that the Constitutional rights are not violated. If they are, legal counsel can challenge the courts in your defense.
A minor traffic offense can escalate to an arrest. Steps to consider with a police encounter: For personal safety remain in your vehicle, refrain from hostility and maintain hands visibly on the steering wheel.
Wait for specific instructions from the officer. The police officer will direct you to reveal your license and car registration. For your safety and others, carefully reach for your necessary documents.
It’s important not to bring additional attention to yourself. Always accept your traffic citation without argument. Calmly listen to contesting procedures and final instructions. Don’t drive away without the acknowledgement of the officer.
Secure immediate legal counsel if your traffic stop, citation and/or verbal interactions are questionable and unreasonable. For legal purposes, your issued ticket reveals contesting procedures, date, time, traffic infraction and the officer’s name.
Take the Fifth
If the officer begins questioning, a red flag should rise. The goal of an officer is to obtain admission of guilt. Coercion is difficult to ignore and under these circumstances, refraining from speaking is difficult. Victims innocently feel pressured to respond, resulting in self-incrimination. Exercising the Fifth, the right of “remaining silent,” limits evidence against oneself. It’s unlawful to force an individual, pleading the Fifth, to answer any form of questioning. It also includes the officer’s request for consent to a car search.
Decline the Search
Regardless of your innocence, never consent to a car or personal search. Consenting waives your Fourth Amendment rights. If illegal contraband is found, it’s difficult to challenge the permission and search in court.
An officer must have probable cause for “ordering” a person out of their car. If an officer orders you out of the vehicle, don’t resist. Conflict leads to unreasonable consequences. Frisking or patting outside of the individual’s clothing is a search for concealed weapons.
Border Search and Seizure
Driving within a 100 mile radius of an international border are strictly enforced laws of Homeland Security. It is important to know that limited privacy rights exist within the driving radius. Any search and seizure by border patrols do not need to possess a warrant or probable cause. For the security interests of the U.S. and the bordering countries and its governments, routine questioning, searches and seizures are considered reasonable.
A simple traffic stop should remain simple. If it escalates to an arrest and car impoundment, legal counsel is highly recommended. David Sereno Law specializes in traffic law. Know your protective rights. Every American is entitled to the entire benefits of Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Demand that your rights are respectfully preserved through your legal journey.