You may think it’s a done deal when the police search your car during a routine traffic stop and find contraband, like drugs or drug paraphernalia. However, that search and seizure might have been unlawful depending on the circumstances, and the evidence obtained may not be admissible in court.
Many people are not aware of their constitutional rights anchored in the Fourth Amendment, which protects them from unlawful searches by law enforcement.
Did the police have probable cause to search your car?
The police can search your vehicle based on a court-issued warrant. However, for law enforcement to obtain a search warrant or conduct a search on your car, they need to have probable cause. They must have a reasonable basis to believe that your vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity to search it.
For instance, if the police notice something illegal inside the vehicle through the window or a drug-sniffing dog alerts them of possible contraband, that is sufficient probable cause to search.
Did you give consent?
Without a search warrant or probable cause, the police can search your vehicle if you give explicit consent. It means that you have agreed to have your vehicle searched and any evidence obtained may be used against you. If you did not, the evidence may have been obtained illegally.
Understand your legal rights
If the evidence against you was obtained from an unlawful search, you may be able to have it suppressed. Given that the prosecution’s threshold is to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for a successful conviction, taking away key evidence can poke holes in an otherwise watertight case. Therefore, it is in your best interest that you look out for and safeguard your legal rights throughout the trial for a desirable outcome.