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Being arrested is not a good situation and can cause both psychological issues and social rejection by friends and family. However, one of the biggest areas of repercussions of being arrested is that the arrestee’s life is now an open book for law enforcement. When one is arrested, law enforcement believes there is some reasonable grounds that the arrestee has committed a crime.

As a result, law enforcement will search every aspect of an arrestee’s life in an effort to find evidence that corroborates their suspicion. As a result, any secret, anything that was intended to be private, will now be sifted through by law enforcement. Retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney can help to prevent this intrusion on privacy. Nevertheless, law enforcement is only permitted to search a person’s property under certain constitutional restrictions. Thus, even if a criminal defense attorney cannot prevent a search, they may be able to expunge any evidence obtained as ill-gotten gains.

Recently, a Stockton woman was arrested for having nearly 100 pounds of narcotics in her vehicle while driving in Minnesota. Although the article does not discuss it, the arrest brings up a question that is probably on many individuals’ minds – when exactly can law enforcement legally search a vehicle? A discussion of the not-so-simple answer to this question will follow below.

Search Warrants

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides protection against unlawful searches and seizures by law enforcement. Typically, this means that arbitrary searches, i.e., searches without a validly-issued search warrant, of vehicles are prohibited. However, it should be noted that this is not a bright line prohibition – there are some limited situations in which police can search an individual’s vehicle without a warrant.

Vehicle Searches

When it comes specifically to searches of vehicles, courts generally give law enforcement more leeway as opposed to when law enforcement are attempting to search a residence, based on their recognition that individuals have a lower expectation of privacy when driving a vehicle than when they are in their homes. Accordingly, in California, law enforcement needs a valid search warrant to search a vehicle, unless one of the following circumstances applies:

  • The individual gives consent to a search of his/her vehicle, which is the most common way in which an innocent individual’s vehicle get searched, though it should not be granted;
  • Law enforcement have “probable cause” to believe the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime;
  • Law enforcement are in the process of arresting an occupant of the vehicle, and the arrestee is within reaching distance of the vehicle, or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence about the crime related to the arrest;
  • Law enforcement are temporarily detaining an occupant of the vehicle, and reasonably believe that the occupant may be dangerous and have access to weapons stored in the vehicle; or
  • The vehicle has been lawfully impounded by law enforcement, who are conducting an inventory search.

Remedies for an Illegal Search

If the vehicle search is deemed to be unlawful, and an individual is charged with a crime based on evidence found in the search, the individual can file a motion to suppress evidence. This motion, if granted, will prevent the evidence from being introduced in court. An experienced criminal defense attorney knows how to effectively obtain this result.

Speak to a Criminal Defense Attorney

If law enforcement conducted a search of your vehicle, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. Although it is difficult – and inadvisable – to resist a search of your vehicle, if the search was conducted illegally, any information gleaned can be inadmissible in court.

The attorneys at our office  know when law enforcement can legally search a vehicle. After learning your specific circumstances, we will work to provide the most effective defense possible, including potentially expunging evidence. The Los Angeles attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Do not wait, contact us today for an initial consultation.

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