While most people are familiar with their Fourth Amendment rights when it comes to search and seizure in general, there are specifics you should know about the rights police have to search your vehicle. Police must have probable cause or obtain a warrant if they want to continue a search of a car or home.

If your Fourth Amendment rights were violated during a police stop, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney. If those rights are violated with regard to drug crimes and many other offenses, this can compromise the ability of the prosecution to succeed in a case against a suspect.

When Police Cross the Line

Unfortunately, sometimes police take advantage of the fact that individuals are not familiar with their rights. If you believe that the police did not have the appropriate authority to search you or your vehicle at a particular time, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer to determine this. The specifics related to a stop can be confusing or overwhelming, so hire someone who is knowledgeable about these important rights. If your rights were violated, it could prohibit the use of that evidence against you and weaken the prosecution’s case against you.

When Don’t Police Need a Warrant?

One way for police to obtain the right to search your home or car is if you provide consent to allow them to search it. Many drivers might feel uncomfortable rejecting a request to search offered by the police, but you do have the right to refuse a basic search at a police stop. Usually, police will ask if they can search the vehicle, but allowing them to do this might result in the collection of evidence that could be used against you.

There is another exception to the need for a warrant at a police stop. This is known as the “plain view doctrine”. If the police officer stops you for any reason, like a traffic infraction, and the officer sees illegal drugs in the front seat, for example, they have observed probable cause in plain view. If this is the reasoning an officer is using to justify a search, three questions will be asked in court to determine whether the search was valid. These are:

  • Was the officer lawfully present for the stop?
  • Did the officer have a legal right to access the object, such as viewing the object in plain sight?
  • Was the illegal nature of the drug readily apparent?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then the officer has the right to search and seize any evidence related to the alleged crime.  However, even if you believe that the answer to all the questions is yes, you should at least consult with an experienced attorney who can effectively evaluate the circumstances.

What Kinds of Exceptions Might Apply to My Case?

The protections outlined above apply not only to courts in Arizona, but to legal cases across the country. You need to walk through the specifics of your case with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine if your Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated. Only an attorney can advise you about your rights and help you determine the right strategy for defending the case in court.


This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact Mesa Criminal Attorney, Garrett L. Smith at 480-540-6021 log on to www.mycriminaldefenselawyeraz.com, or contact an attorney in your area.