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3 Things to Know About Search and Seizure Laws

Dec. 18, 2017

Imagine driving back to the Virginia Tech campus from a party. You and your friends had a great night, but things went sideways when you saw red and blue lights flashing in your rear view mirror. The police officers pulled all of you out of the car, questioned you about your activities that night and proceeded to search your car. In the back seat, they found marijuana and the next thing you know, all of you are in the back of squad cars and heading for jail. But, was the search and seizure really legal?

When it comes to searching an individual's private property, there are certain procedures that law enforcement officers must follow. If they fail to follow these rules, then the search and seizure might be illegal in the eyes of the court. Here are a few things you should know about illegal searches and seizures.

How the Court Decides if A Search Occurred

When a court hears a case that involves a search, it will ask two questions. First, the court will ask if the person whom the police searched expected a measure of privacy. The second question the court will ask if it was reasonable for that person to have such an expectation. For example, if a person stands on a downtown street corner and starts waving around a bag of marijuana in full view of the general public, the court will probably decide that this person could not have had high expectations with regard to privacy.

Searches During Traffic Stops

If the police officer that pulls you over for a traffic stop thinks that you are carrying a weapon or an illegal substance, he or she can generally search and frisk you to find out. However, in order to search the passenger compartment of your vehicle, one of two situations usually must exist. Either you must be able to reach the passenger compartment at the time of the search, or the police have a reason to think that your car contains some kind of evidence that directly relates to your arrest.

A Search During Impound

If the police arrest you and impound your car, it is legal for them to conduct a search of the vehicle at the impound lot. This might include opening any locked compartments, such as the glove compartment, and the trunk. Even if the police towed your car for something as simple as a parking ticket, they can still conduct a search. However, they cannot impound your car in order to perform the search.

If the police violated the law when they searched your vehicle and found marijuana, you may be able to successfully fight back against a drug possession charge. Depending on the specific circumstances of your case, there might be a strong defense you can use to beat the drug charges.