In our last post, we began speaking about vehicle searches that occurred in two Florida drug cases in the last couple weeks. As we noted, the vehicle searches in both cases were preceded by the suspect or suspects giving consent to the vehicle search, something that is unnecessary and not necessarily desirable.
In criminal cases involving vehicle searches, it is always important for defendants to work with an experienced attorney to thoroughly scrutinize the actions of police officers with respect to how the search was carried out. The idea is to make sure any incriminating evidence was obtained legally. When it wasn’t, it may be possible to have that evidence thrown out at trial.
When it comes to vehicle searches, there are fewer protections for criminal suspects than with home searches. Police may have to obtain a warrant in some cases to search a vehicle, but there are a variety of scenarios where they do not. These include cases where consent is given, situations where an officer feels a search is necessary to ensure his or her own protection, and searches incident to an arrest. Police may also search a vehicle when they have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity.
Just because an officer is justified in searching a vehicle, though, doesn’t mean they have no limitations on the scope of their search. For example, an officer may have obtained permission to search the passenger compartment of a vehicle, but that doesn’t mean they can automatically search the trunk without obtaining permission. Likewise, an officer who is searching a vehicle out of concern for his or her own safety is not going to be justified in searching the trunk of the vehicle when there is no possibility of a suspect accessing a dangerous weapon there. Another point to consider, with respect to vehicle searches based on consent, is that consent can be revoked at any time, and an officer must respect the request.
In building a criminal defense case, it is important to look at any search and seizure issues carefully to determine how they might impact the case. Working with an experienced advocate ensures that one’s rights will be protected.