If you have been driving for very long, the chances are good that you have been pulled over at some point by the police. Whether it was for speeding or a broken taillight, these stops usually result in little more than a warning or a ticket. In some cases, however, things can become more complicated.
If the officer that stops you suspects you are committing a crime, they might ask for your permission to search your car. You have the right to refuse, but that might not be the end of it. The police could return with a warrant or even search your vehicle without one— if they claim to have probable cause.
The United States Constitution protects you from unlawful search and seizure. If the police unlawfully search your vehicle, you could be entitled to file a civil action against them. A New York City civil rights lawyer from our firm could advise you and help you seek justice.
Searches with a warrant
If the officer receives a warrant to search your vehicle, there is nothing you can do to stop them. In fact, interfering, at this point, could bring separate criminal charges. A warrant is a signed order from a judge and may only be granted if the police show the court that it is necessary.
While obtaining a warrant might be the most surefire way for an officer to search a car, many prefer not to go this route. The officer who pulled you over will need to keep you at the traffic stop while someone else seeks out a judge. This can be time-consuming, and there is no guarantee the judge will agree. Seeking a warrant is typically the last resort for an officer.
Searches based on consent
If an officer suspects they will find evidence of a crime within your vehicle, their first step is typically to ask for your consent. The police are often adept at couching a request in the form of a command. While you might have the right to refuse, they can be pushy or make you feel like it is necessary. Another common tactic is to threaten to get a warrant, forcing you to sit on the side of the road for a substantial amount of time. This tactic often coerces drivers to consent so they can go about their day.
Searches based on probable cause
In limited circumstances, an officer could search your vehicle without consent or a warrant. This is only lawful if they have probable cause that you have committed a crime. Probable cause must be more than a hunch; the officer must have a specific fact or observation. Common examples include visible, illegal contraband within the vehicle. If the police search your car without a warrant or consent, you should always consult with a New York civil rights lawyer.
If the police arrest you, they are entitled to search your car to inventory your belongings. While law enforcement claims this is to ensure your property is secure, the police can use anything they find against you. This typically occurs at impound lots after your car is towed.
Speak with an attorney today
Have the police searched our car without a warrant? If so, they may have violated your civil rights. At Friedman, Levy, Goldfarb, & Green, we are dedicated to defending New Yorkers who have been targeted by police. To discuss your legal options, schedule a free consultation as soon as possible.