Can law enforcement search my vehicle for drugs?
Obtaining evidence of a drug crime is often essential to a prosecutor’s case. Without this evidence, the prosecutor may not be able to establish the elements of the crime necessary for a conviction.
Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers are required to obtain a search warrant before conducting a search of a person or their property. However, the Supreme Court determined that requiring an officer to obtain a warrant before searching a vehicle was not reasonable, as a vehicle can be moved quickly. The automobile exception allows officers to search a vehicle if they have consent from you or probable cause to conduct the search.
What is probable cause?
To have probable cause to search a vehicle, an officer must have a reasonable belief that a drug crime has been committed or will be committed and that the vehicle contains evidence of this crime. This reasonable belief should be based on the totality of the circumstances, not just a hunch.
Plain view exception
There is another exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement that may apply to the seizing of evidence from your vehicle. If an officer lawfully stops your vehicle and observes evidence of a drug crime “in plain view” (e.g., on the backseat), they may seize the evidence. The incriminating nature of the items must be immediately apparent.
Not all searches conducted by Newport Beach, California, law enforcement officials are legal. If evidence was obtained during an illegal search of your vehicle, a criminal defense attorney will seek to suppress the unlawfully obtained evidence and make sure it is not used against you in court.