Do I Have to Consent to a Car Search?
According to the United States Constitution, you have the right to be free from unreasonable searches of yourself, your home or your vehicle. That said, the search of a vehicle rarely involves any type of warrant. Here is what could happen.
You are driving your vehicle down Peachtree, and the next thing you know, you hear sirens and see lights flashing behind you. You pull over as required by law and exit your vehicle like you are asked to do. Before you realize what is happening, your car is being sorted through by the officers that pulled you over. But how? If your car is being searched legally, it is under one of these circumstances.
1. Search Incident to Arrest
This type of search allows for the immediate vicinity of the driver to be sorted through. This means that anywhere that the driver can easily reach inside the car is open to searching by the police. This is only true if the police have grounds for the arrest of the driver.
2. Inventory Search
One the driver has been arrested and the vehicle will be impounded, police are permitted to conduct an inventory search. This is in order to list the contents of the vehicle in order to avoid civil liability of the vehicle’s content are lost or damaged.
3. Probable Cause
When the police have reason to suspect that there may be a weapon or evidence of crime in the vehicle, they are permitted to search it. This search includes the allowance of the driver to be patted down for weapons or contraband as well.
It’s important to understand that a police officer may search a vehicle based upon “plain view.” That is, if you have a bag of drugs or a weapon resting on a seat in the vehicle and the police see it through your window, they are permitted to search the vehicle. An officer may also search the vehicle when you give them permission to do so. A police officer may ask for your permission to search the vehicle, believing that you are under the impression that you must consent. You do not have to give this permission. If you say no, the police may not conduct a search if none of the above factors are in play.
A vehicle is considered your personal property. This is true under the Fourth Amendment, but your vehicle is treated differently than your person or home. It is far more difficult to fight an illegal search of your vehicle than it is to fight against an illegal search of your home or person. That said, it can be done.
If you believe that you were the victim of an illegal search in Atlanta, call our office. We will evaluate the details of your incident at no cost to you and advise you of your options. Reach out to our office today or browse our website for more information about our firm and the types of cases we handle. Hawkins Spizman Fortas is here for you and are ready to put our experience to work on your behalf.