The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects all citizens from illegal searches and seizure of their person and property. Generally speaking, for law enforcement to search or seize, they need a warrant issued by a judge. There are, however, exceptions to this rule.
Probable Cause and “Exigency”
Probable cause is evidence that police can witness or sense that tells them a crime has been, will be, or is being committed. In many cases, traffic stops in and of themselves must be prompted by confirming probable cause. Officers witnessing a car pass through a red light or swerving on the road are both common, simple examples of this.
Once the car is stopped, officers then must have probable cause that illegal activity is occurring or has occurred—either in the vehicle or on the person of the motorist or passengers.
Common examples of probable cause detected during a traffic stop are:
- Open containers
- The odor of drugs or alcohol
- Motorists/passengers exhibiting intoxication or impairment
Additionally, there is the concept of “exigency,” which is the reasonable belief by officers that evidence is actively being destroyed or that suspects are likely to flee. These cases are rare, but when exigency is claimed by an officer, they can legally take immediate action to detain suspects and search a premises, including a vehicle.
There are two kinds of consent that commonly factor into a traffic stop: implied and voluntary.Implied consent is a mandatory part of DUI stops, where officers have stopped a motorist because they have probable cause to believe that they are intoxicated or impaired. This kind of consent concerns the motorists obligation to submit to a blood, urine, or breathalyzer test.
Voluntary consent is a motorist agreeing to a search. Police officers are trained to continually ask to search or “look around” when they do not have probable cause. For many, officers asking for permission can be intimidating and too many motorists agree to these searches when they do not have to. It is completely legal and reasonable to say no to officers in this situation. Simple, polite answers such as “I do mind opening my trunk,” or “if I can please see a warrant first” let officers know that you are aware of your rights and that you are exercising them.
What if I’ve already been arrested?
If you are arrested during a traffic stop because of drugs or paraphrenalia found on your person or in your vehicle, then the circumstances of that arrest and those searches are still critically important. Just because you were charged does not mean that those charges can stand in court and it is important to speak with a knowledgeable Peoria criminal defense attorney to help you assess the circumstances of your arrest and determine if there was a critical mistake in police procedure.
If you are facing a charge following a traffic stop, contact my firm, Miller Law Offices, P.C., today. My dedication to client advocacy has been recognized by the industry time and time again—and those who come to my firm for help can rest assured that every possible defense option is explored to its fullest extent.
Reductions and dismissals can be possible. Contact me today for a free case evaluation.
The Summer Camp Music Festival is just around the corner, which means there will be an increased local law enforcement presence, particularly on the road. During music events like this, there is usually a spike in arrests from traffic stops—but festival-goers and other motorists should be aware of their Fourth Amendment Rights during these stops and know when the search and seizure of their vehicle is unlawful.