When is a traffic stop or vehicle search illegal?

When is a traffic stop or vehicle search illegal?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

There are federal rules that help protect people from misconduct by police officers. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures, a right that often comes up during criminal proceedings.

Unfortunately, police officers are often willing to bend the rules about how they treat people, especially if they suspect a drug crime. Drug crimes come with many incentives for law enforcement, not the least of which is civil asset forfeiture which could give their department more funds.

A police officer could be eager that they try to stop you for questionable reasons or search your vehicle without the legal right to do so. When could you challenge a traffic stop or the search of your vehicle by police? 

Police must have a reason to conduct a traffic stop

As soon as an officer pulls you over, you can ask them why they decided to stop you. If they don’t have a strong reason for the stop, that is a red flag that they have likely violated your right.

Police officers might profile you because they saw you leaving a certain business or because you have a certain kind of bumper sticker on your vehicle. Even the age and condition of your vehicle or your appearance might lead to a police officer profiling you and pulling you over without probable cause.

A traffic stop conducted without probable cause to suspect a primary traffic infraction is illegal, and the courts may exclude any evidence an officer finds during that traffic stop.

Police have to have probable cause to search your vehicle

The police officer can arrest you if they find even trace amounts of illegal substances in your vehicle. A marijuana seed dropped by a previous owner or a little bit of cocaine left behind by a passenger could be enough for the police to arrest you and charge you with a crime.

Generally, they need to have probable cause or a warrant to search your vehicle. Seeing drug paraphernalia or smelling something when you roll down the window would be a reason to search your vehicle. Without probable cause or your permission, what an officer finds when they search your vehicle may not hold up to a challenge in court.

Understanding when police can stop you and when they can search your vehicle can help you protect yourself against possible drug charges.