Can The Police Search My Car Without A Warrant?

Posted By Imhoff & Associates || 3-Jun-2009

On April 21 st, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court held that police may search the passenger compartment of a car only when the occupant is arrested and it is reasonable to believe that the arrestee might access the vehicle after his arrest or that the passenger compartment contains evidence of a crime.

Free from Unreasonable Searches?

For over 25 years citizens have felt like they have given up the right to be free from unreasonable searches simply because they happen to be on a public road or a passenger in a motor vehicle. This feeling was based on old case law allowing police to search a car incident to a lawful arrest (New York v. Belton, 1981). This sometimes included arrests for traffic offenses and outstanding traffic warrants.

In Arizona v. Gant, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Arizona state supreme court who threw out a drug conviction in the case of an individual who was arrested for driving on a suspended driver’s license. Gant was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of a police car. The police proceeded to search his vehicle and found cocaine in a jacket pocket in the back seat.

The police had Gant in custody in a police car. This would have prevented him from accessing anything inside of his vehicle (no officer safety issue at this point) and searching the car was not going to prevent him from destroying any evidence in support of his arrest for driving on a suspended driver’s license (there wouldn’t have been any).

Criminal Cases May Be Dismissed Due to Unreasonable Searches

State courts have treated the authority and justification to search citizens and their cars incident to arrest of the recent occupant as a police entitlement rather than applying the exclusionary rules to determine the searches validity. By using the latest U.S. Supreme Court decision to test these types of searches, many pending criminal cases that were born of “police entitlement” may end up being dismissed because the evidence obtained may be thrown out.

Contact a Criminal Attorney at Imhoff & Associates, PC

Our highly skilled attorneys will fight to protect your rights. Understanding and using the latest case law in your defense can mean the difference between getting your case dismissed and spending years in prison.

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Categories: Legal Matters

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