Can a Police Officer Search Your Vehicle Without a Warrant?
Being pulled over is a scary experience. You may have no idea what you did wrong or if you even committed a crime. You should always remember that you have rights under Wyoming state law. These include the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney if you are charged with a crime, and the right to refuse a search. But these rights do come with some exceptions, and there are scenarios where you may have to allow an officer to search your vehicle.
Your Rights When Pulled Over
The team at Steven Titus & Associates, P.C., has talked about your rights in Wyoming before, but now let’s talk a bit more about your privacy rights. Under the Fourth Amendment, you are protected from “unlawful searches and seizures.” This means, if the police officer does not have your permission to search your home or a lawful warrant, she cannot enter your property and search for evidence. The Fourth Amendment applies when you are pulled over, as your vehicle is considered personal property. If an officer asks you to open your trunk, look under your hood, or search under your car seats, you have the right to refuse.
In addition, the officer must have a good reason for pulling you over. He cannot simply stop and search every vehicle on a Wyoming highway in the hopes of catching a criminal. If your taillight is out, you were speeding, or you made an illegal turn, the officer does have the right to pull you over. But even in these scenarios, the officer cannot simply open your car door and start searching for evidence without your permission. If he did, he would be violating your Fourth Amendment rights.
However, that right is limited in certain circumstances. For example, if an officer does pull you over legally for violating a traffic law, he can look through your windows for evidence of a crime. If you have an open can of beer, a loaded weapon, or a bag of marijuana, he could arrest you for violating specific laws.
There is also the matter of probable cause, which does allow police officers to search a vehicle without a warrant.
What Is Probable Cause?
Probable cause is a broad legal term that gives police officers the right to search a house or vehicle if they have good reason to suspect a crime has been committed there. For example, if an officer receives reports of gunfire at a particular house, then she could enter the property to investigate.
In the case of a traffic stop, if the officer suspects that a driver is intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, then he can ask you and your passengers to step out of the vehicle so he can search it. The officer can base this on slurred speech, erratic driving behavior, and even bloodshot eyes, as was set by the defining case of WYOMING V. HOUGHTON, during which the Supreme Court ruled that a police officer can search a vehicle if he suspects a crime has been committed, as well as any items within the vehicle, such as a backpack or purse.
If you are pulled over and an officer does search your vehicle, it is important to use your right to remain silent. If the police do charge you with a crime, contact a Gillette criminal defense attorney at Steven Titus & Associates, P.C., as soon as possible. Our skilled trial attorneys can review the nature of your case and determine if your rights were violated in any way. If your vehicle was illegally searched, we can work to have any charges against you dropped. To discuss your case in a free consultation, call our office at (307) 257-7800. Remember, you are innocent until proven guilty.
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