Were you pulled over for a traffic violation or on suspicion of driving under the influence? Before placing you under arrest, did officers search your car after you gave them consent to search? Did you know that drivers have a right to refuse vehicle searches in most cases? How would your situation be different if you knew you could have refused the search?
Police officers love to search motorists’ cars because they never know what they are going to find. So, while a police officer might initially decide to pull you over for speeding or another suspected traffic violation, as they approach your vehicle, they are looking for any reason to go on a fishing expedition in hopes of finding drugs, a gun, or other evidence that ties you to a crime. However, law enforcement officers must respect drivers’ constitutional rights, including the right to be free from illegal searches and seizures. At Robinson Law, PLLC, our Fairfax criminal defense attorneys proudly represent individuals who now face DUI, weapons offenses or drug crimes after police officers found evidence during vehicle searches conducted during routine traffic stops.Can Officers Search Your Car During a Traffic Stop?
No, as a general rule, a police officer cannot legally search your car during a traffic stop or DUI stop except in three situations:
- The officer placed you under arrest;
- Relying on specific observable facts, the officer develops probable cause to believe you committed a crime or the vehicle contains contraband; or
- The officer obtains your consent to search.
Even in each of these situations, an officer’s ability to search your car is limited. However, Virginia police officers routinely conduct vehicle searches in hopes of finding contraband they can then use to justify an arrest.Do You Need to Give a Police Officer Consent to Search Your Car?
Absolutely not. Police officers generally have the authority to carry out law enforcement functions without the permission of a suspect. However, under the U.S. and Virginia constitutions, if a police officer’s actions would constitute a search, they must have probable cause to believe you committed a crime. To get around this, officers will often seek permission from drivers to search their cars. If a driver gives their permission for a vehicle search, then the officer doesn’t need to justify the search.
Of course, police officers aren’t going to tell you this. Instead, they tell you that they will “take it easy on you” if you let them search your car. So, you agree. But by doing so, you essentially waive your constitutional right to privacy.Can a Driver Challenge Their Consent to Search?
Yes, while giving your consent to a vehicle search makes it harder to keep the evidence out of trial, an experienced criminal defense attorney can file a motion to suppress based on illegally obtained consent. However, the bar to establishing that consent was improperly obtained is high.What Is a Motion to Suppress?
A motion to suppress is a pretrial motion filed by a criminal defense attorney asking the judge to keep certain evidence out of trial. There are many reasons to litigate a motion to suppress, including:
- The evidence was obtained as a result of an illegal search;
- A statement was given in response to improper police questioning;
- A driver’s consent to search was not knowing, intelligent or voluntary.
No, the law allows for police officers to essentially mislead drivers when seeking consent for a vehicle search. So, while the officer probably cannot get away with telling an outright lie, they can inform a driver that it would be “better for everyone” if they gave consent to search.Have You Been Arrested After Officers Searched Your Car?
If you were recently arrested after a traffic or DUI / DWI stop, do not assume that whatever the officers found during the search is admissible at trial. At Robinson Law, PLLC, our Fairfax DUI defense attorneys have more than 50 years of combined experience standing up for the rights of citizens in the face of aggressive police tactics. We have cross-examined hundreds of police officers on the stand, and know what it takes to expose their unfair—and unconstitutional—actions. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation today, call (703) 844-3746. You can also connect with us through our online contact form. We proudly represent clients in Fairfax, Loudon, Stafford, and Suffolk counties, as well as throughout Northern Virginia.