A traffic stop is always a nerve-racking experience – even if you did nothing wrong. Unfortunately, many people wind up facing charges because they do not understand their rights.
In most cases, police cannot search your vehicle unless:
- They have a warrant;
- They have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband or drugs [Detection by a police officer of the odor of burnt cannabis emanating from a vehicle, by itself, constitutes sufficient facts and circumstances to establish probable cause for a warrantless search of the person of an occupant of that vehicle. State v. Williams, 967 So. 2d 941 (Fla. 1st DCA 2007)];
- You give them consent;
- Or you were arrested and the search was “incident to the arrest” or an inventory search prior to a tow or impoundment.
If an officer asks to search your vehicle, you should politely decline. Some people mistakenly believe that if an officer asks, he or she can conduct the search with or without the driver’s permission, but this is not true unless they meet one of the criteria above.
Refusing to give consent may upset the officer, but this is often right decision. Even if you have never used or possessed drugs, it may be possible that a passenger or a prior owner brought drugs into the car. If you give consent, the officer can call a canine unit to conduct a dog sniff, which at the very least will cause unnecessary stress and take time out of your day.
Furthermore, if it is not your car or there is more than one occupant, the law makes it very hard, if not impossible, for them to successfully pursue charges if the contraband is in the car and not actually on you physically (in your pocket, etc.). Another common mistake people make is acknowledging its presence or admitting to ownership. In many of our cases, we have had the charges dropped where our client did not say too much; on the other hand, there have many people that have come to us that shot themselves in the foot, so to speak, by admitting to the presence or ownership. We are not saying to be dishonest…just do not say anything at all! You have a right to remain silent for a reason…use it!
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects citizens from illegal searches and seizures. If an officer conducts an illegal search, then any evidence that he or she collects may be inadmissible in court. This includes drugs, paraphernalia and other incriminating evidence. We have won many cases on these grounds!
If you are facing criminal charges in Florida, contact Leader & Leader P.A. Michael D. Leader is a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer with a reputation for winning cases. Call 954-523-2020 today to schedule a free initial consultation.
Until then, read on to learn more about vehicle searches during traffic stops:
When can an officer search your vehicle?
In most cases, officers at a traffic stop will not have a search warrant. However, they can conduct a warrantless search if they see contraband or drugs in plain view within the vehicle, or if they smell marijuana. Even if they do not, we have had many cases in which we believe they fabricate smelling the odor, probably one of the most common fabrications we confront.
Just because you were arrested does not mean that the officer has consent to search your vehicle. In fact, because you are in the back of the squad car and not in the immediate area of your vehicle, the officer cannot search your vehicle “incident to the arrest” in many situations, especially when it is lawfully parked.
Final Verdict: Do Not Consent to the Search
A substantial number of drug cases involve drivers who gave officers consent to search their vehicles. These people may have avoided charges if they understood their rights.
If you are facing drug charges, there may be several defenses that work in your favor. For example, if the officer conducted an illegal search, then the prosecuting authority may not be able to use evidence gathered during the search against you.
Your first call should be to a criminal defense lawyer. Michael D. Leader is a Fort Lauderdale criminal attorney who can represent your interests and aggressively fight for a positive outcome to your case.
Mr. Leader is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Schedule a free initial consultation today by calling 954-523-2020.