You have been stopped by police and before you know it, the officer is asking you to step out of your vehicle so they can search the inside for drugs. While some of these searches are legal, many are a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights under the Constitution. If the police perform an unlawful search of your vehicle, any evidence that could have been used against you will be thrown out of your case.
What makes a search lawful?
Generally, if a New York officer wants to search your home, they are required to obtain a search warrant. However, the law is a little less strict when it comes to your vehicle. An officer can search your vehicle without a warrant under the following circumstances:
You consented to the search
An officer may search your vehicle if you, as the owner of the vehicle, voluntarily consent to the search.
The search was incident to the arrest
If an officer has placed you under arrest, they are legally allowed to protect themselves and prevent the destruction of evidence by searching your person and your vehicle for weapons and evidence. However, the arrest must have been lawful (based on probable cause) and the arrestee must be able to reach the vehicle at the time.
The officer has probable cause to conduct the search
An officer may search your vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that you were involved in a crime and that there is evidence of that crime in the vehicle. Probable cause is not the same as having a hunch or a feeling. The officer must have this belief based on a totality of the circumstances.
There is evidence in plain view
Under the plain view doctrine, an officer may seize drug paraphernalia or other evidence of a crime in plain view (e.g., drugs on the backseat that are visible through a window).
If you are facing drug charges and think you may have been subjected to an illegal search, it is in your best interest to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can determine whether your Constitutional rights were violated and suppress any evidence that was obtained illegally by law enforcement.