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Law Enforcement’s Ability to Stop and Search Vehicles

Posted by Attorney James Hairgrove | Jul 03, 2014 | 0 Comments

San Diego criminal defense attorney The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of a person and his or her property. However, a person's vehicle does not receive much protection under the Fourth Amendment. According to a San Diego criminal defense attorney, courts give police officers considerable leeway when they make determinations regarding reasonable suspicion. In addition, courts are giving officers increasing levels of constitutional latitude to stop vehicles.

Police Officers' Ability to Search

After pulling a car over, police are allowed to:

  • Require the passengers to get out of the car;
  • Move documents around to verify the vehicle identification number;
  • Shine a flashlight around the vehicle and confiscate anything in plain view;
  • Ask questions about the occupants' identities; and
  • Ask to see the driver's license and registration.

If an officer observes occupants behaving in a furtive or suspicious manner or they refuse to obey orders, the officer may be allowed to pat the vehicle's occupants down. In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court held that if a vehicle's occupant was placed in police custody, a police officer was allowed to search the passenger compartment and any containers found inside. An officer could perform a search even if the person was placed in custody outside the vehicle and not physically able to access the car, says a San Diego criminal defense lawyer.

Currently, the Supreme Court stipulates that officers can search a vehicle in connection with having taken someone into custody, if the individual is not restrained and is in reach of the passenger compartment while the search is being performed. Officers are also permitted to search vehicles in the event that there is reasonable suspicion that the vehicle contains evidence that is relevant to the crime for which the person has been placed in police custody. On the other hand, if the driver is not being placed in police custody, officers are not permitted to frisk the driver or search the vehicle, unless police believe that the driver poses a danger to them.

Lastly, police cannot detain someone for a crime that is unrelated to the reason the driver was pulled over. If police question or detain someone for an unrelated reason, the detention might be ruled unreasonable and any evidence collected may be deemed inadmissible.

Defense Options for Unreasonable Vehicular Searches

In the event you have been pulled over and you were patted down and your vehicle searched, your San Diego criminal defense attorney may challenge officer's reasonable suspicion to make the stop or the probable cause to search your vehicle for evidence. In addition, a passenger who was patted down or placed in police custody can also challenge a police officer's reasonable suspicion.

If you believe you were stopped and your vehicle searched without probable cause, you may want to have a San Diego criminal defense lawyer review your case. To speak with a San Diego criminal defense attorney, call James V. Hairgrove at 619-667-3743.

About the Author

Attorney James Hairgrove

About My Role I am the Chief Executive at California Law Centers, APC., which incorporates the following legal services: Personal Injury, Family Law, Criminal Law, as well as traffic tickets. I have attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, graduating in 1994 in the top-third of my c...


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