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If you have been arrested for a drug crime charge after a traffic stop, there are a number of strategies you and your defense attorney can employ to fight the charges brought against you (NOTE: you should never attempt to defend yourself in a drug crime charge and should refuse to speak with law enforcement and prosecutors without an attorney present). One of these strategies is questioning whether the police had a right to search your car for any evidence of drugs. Because you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your car, you are protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. That said, there may be occasions in which the police can search your car for evidence of drugs or other contraband.
If you provide consent to a police officer to search your car, then that officer is constitutionally allowed to do so. What this means is that you should not provide consent to law enforcement to search your car, and especially not without the presence and guidance of your own criminal defense attorney. Officers will of course try to persuade you to give consent, but, again, you can simply decline to do so and say that you would not like to answer questions without your attorney present.
If the police officer had probable cause to arrest you for a crime, such as driving under the influence, then the officer may conduct what is called a search incident to a lawful arrest. This means the officer can search within your “wingspan” (the area you can reach from where you are located) for weapons or evidence of the crime, such as an open container. But this does not give the police the right to search areas outside your wingspan such as your trunk.
If the police can see contraband (evidence of a crime) without entering the car, then the police can in many cases seize that evidence lawfully. For example, if a police officer shines a flashlight into your backseat and sees cocaine paraphernalia or an illegal weapon, then the officer then has the right to lawfully seize that evidence.
Probable cause means that, based on the totality of the facts available to the officer at the time he decides to conduct a search, it would be reasonable for him to conclude that a crime has been committed. This is a flexible standard, and many court cases have discussed exactly what this means in a particular circumstance. But it definitely means more than a gut feeling or suspicion on the part of the officer and requires the officer to point to specific facts supporting his conclusion that you had committed a crime before evidence obtained in such a search will be admissible.
Search warrants are generally issued for places such as homes, apartments, offices, or storage spaces, but it is possible for the police to obtain a warrant to search a car. Such a warrant must be signed off by a judge based on a finding of probable cause.
Police officers do sometimes fail to follow the constitutional standards for a search of a car, either out of ignorance or disregard of the law, and there may be little you can do at the time to prevent the officer from doing this. But, remember, you can only be convicted of a crime if the evidence supporting the criminal charge was lawfully obtained.
If the police have searched your car and found evidence of a drug crime or any other crime, the first step you should take is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your jurisdiction immediately to begin mounting your defense, which can include calling into question the legality of the search.
The criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Scott Warmuth vigorously defend the rights of men and women across Southern California who have been arrested and/or charged with criminal violations. Our multilingual staff and legal team will do everything we can to defend your freedom and get your life back to normal as quickly as possible. To get more information on how we can assist in your criminal defense, speak to an attorney at the Law Offices of Scott Warmuth today by calling 888-517-9888.