Many Maryland drivers have been stopped by police officers for speeding, running a stop sign, or violating other traffic laws. Sometimes, a seemingly routine traffic stop can quickly turn into a drug arrest and drug charges if the officer searches your vehicle and finds evidence of drug possession or distribution. However, not all vehicle searches conducted by law enforcement officers are legal under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
What makes an automobile search legal?
Generally, the Fourth Amendment requires that law enforcement officers obtain a valid search warrant to search a person’s property. However, there is an “automobile exception” to the Fourth Amendment, which allows law enforcement officers to search your vehicle as long as they have probable cause to do so. Probable cause is the reasonable belief based on the totality of the circumstances that your vehicle contains evidence of a drug crime.
To summarize, a law enforcement officer must have at least one of the following to lawfully search your vehicle for evidence of a drug crime:
- Consent: You have consented to the search.
- Arrest: You have been arrested and the search of your vehicle is related to your arrest.
- Warrant: The officer has a valid warrant.
- Concern for safety: The officer has a reasonable belief that the search is necessary to protect themselves.
- Probable cause: The officer has probable cause to conduct the search.
A criminal defense attorney can review your case to determine if your Fourth Amendment rights were violated and file the necessary motion needed to suppress any evidence obtained during an illegal automobile search. If the motion is granted, prosecutors will not be allowed to use the illegally obtained evidence in their case against you.