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Can a police officer search my vehicle after a traffic stop?

On Behalf of | Sep 24, 2020 | Drug possession |

If an Illinois police officer has stopped your vehicle, the officer may decide to search your vehicle for drugs, drug paraphernalia, weapons, or other contraband. However, not all vehicle searches are legal. If an officer conducts an illegal search of your vehicle, any incriminating evidence recovered during the unlawful search may be excluded from trial. Without this evidence, prosecutors may have a much more difficult time proving their case against you.

When can a police officer search my vehicle?

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unlawful searches and seizures by police. Therefore, officers require one or more of the following to search a vehicle:

  • Consent – You, as the owner of the vehicle, can give the police officer consent to search your vehicle.
  • Warrant – If an officer has a warrant, the officer can search your vehicle .While officers generally cannot search private locations without a warrant, there is an automobile exception, meaning that an officer can search your vehicle without a warrant, as long as they have probable cause.
  • Probable cause – If the officer does not have consent or a warrant, he or she must have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains evidence of criminal activity. Probable cause is
  • Weapons – An officer can search the vehicle for hidden weapons out of concern for their own safety.
  • Arrest – If a person has been arrested and the passenger compartment is within their reach, or if the officer believes there is there is evidence in the vehicle relating to the arrest, the officer can search the vehicle.

Officers can collect evidence within ‘plain view’

If an officer does search your vehicle under one of the above circumstances, it is important that they only search areas of the vehicle where they can reasonably expect to find evidence of the crime. However, if the officer sees drug paraphernalia or other evidence of a crime out in the open or in plain view, they may seize the evidence without having to conduct a search and conduct an additional search for other drug-related items, since the initial evidence provides probable cause that there may be other evidence in the vehicle.

If evidence was obtained illegally, there is a good chance any drug charges against you reduced or dropped entirely. A criminal defense attorney in your area can help make sure that any evidence obtained during an illegal search of your vehicle gets thrown out of your case.