Driving, especially in the congested environment of Los Angeles, requires drivers to accept and follow certain rules in order for everyone to get around safely and efficiently. However, very few drivers would assume that includes the ability of police to seize and hold a vehicle without a warrant for administrative violations. But, California has been doing this very thing for years. Any time police take action against someone, they should immediately seek the advice of a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney about protecting their rights against prosecution and conviction of a criminal defense. The law on suspended licenses allows California police to seize and hold the vehicle for 30 days, regardless of whether of driver owned the car taken. The Ninth Circuit recently decided the blanket application of this vehicle impoundment law violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful searches and seizures. Specifically, the court said that the police must have a valid reason to impound a vehicle from beginning to end, and cannot automatically keep a vehicle for a set period of time without justification. This case brings up the question of when police may search and seize property generally, a big component of any criminal investigation. A discussion of when police are permitted to lawfully search and seize a person or property will follow below.
When Is Police Action Allowed?
Both the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the California constitution hold that citizens have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. However, that freedom only extends to situations when a person has a reasonable and legitimate expectation of privacy, such as when in one’s home, on one’s cell phone and in a hotel room. Generally, police need a warrant to search an area that is considered private, but there are a number of exceptions to the warrant requirement that allow police to act without prior authorization.
Warrants are issued by judges when law enforcement and/or prosecutors present enough evidence to establish probable cause that a person or property was involved in a felony crime. The warrant must specifically state the name of the person sought, the area to be searched, and the property police want to examine. While the purpose of warrant is to check police power, they can still be unlawful if the warrant itself was defective or the search exceeded what was authorized. If this is the case, a criminal defense attorney can challenge the validity of the warrant, and get any evidence unlawfully taken excluded from a criminal trial.
Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement
Turning to the exceptions that permit police to search and seize property and/or a person without a warrant, the list is considerably long and does grant police a great deal of latitude, but it is important to know when a person could be subject to such an intrusion. The exceptions include:
- searches/seizures with voluntary consent;
- searches connected with an arrest that produces weapons that could be used against police or evidence that could be destroyed;
- items that are in plain view when police are conducting an otherwise lawful search;
- vehicles, when police have probable cause to believe it was used in or contains evidence of a crime;
- searches to prevent physical harm, prevent serious property damage, or locate a suspect; and
- a stop and frisk (search of person’s outer clothing) while a person is detained to search for weapons. Police do need to suspect the person being stopped could be involved in criminal activity before the detainment and search is proper.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Being searched or held by police is an unnerving situation, to say the least, and if you experienced this kind of police conduct, contact a criminal defense attorney to advise you about your rights. The Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC handles the criminal defense of many different charges, from minor to serious, and does everything possible for their clients to achieve the best possible results. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us for a free consultation.