Unlawful Searches and the Automobile Exception

The United States Constitution protects individuals from unlawful searches and seizures and unlawful usually means anything without a warrant, however there are some exceptions. One of these exceptions is the automobile exception. The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that there is a lesser expectation of privacy when individuals operate a motor vehicle on public roadways and so the ban on unlawful searches is not as strict. The rules under the automobile exception come in two steps, first the initial stop must be legal and second the law enforcement official cannot unlawfully extend the scope of the stop.

Illegal Stop

For a stop of a vehicle to be legal the law enforcement official must have articulable reasonable suspicion that a criminal offense has occurred or is occurring. What this means is that the officer must be able to point to one fact or circumstances that makes him believe that a crime he could cite someone for has taken place. In other words a police officer can’t just pull a person over for no reason or because they think that they look shady. The practical application of this rule however holds almost no force because most officers know that they need articulable reasonable suspicion so they are unlikely to admit to pulling over an individual for no reason or an illegal reason. What usually takes place is an officer will state that the individual was driving too close, failed to signal, was speeding, or some other nit picky offense. Then when the case gets to court and the defendant wants to challenge the validity of the stop it is a he said she said scenario where the judge is more likely to believe the law enforcement officer. In conclusion it is very difficult, although not impossible, to get evidence suppressed under the illegal stop prong of the automobile exception.

Unlawfully Extending the Scope of the Stop

The second prong of the automobile exception is ensuring that the stop was conducted appropriately. A police officer is only allowed to investigate the crime for which they stopped the individual unless they obtain additional reasonable suspicion for another offense. What this means is that the officer can’t investigate every possible criminal offense imaginable after stopping a person for speeding. The standard for additional reasonable suspicion however is quite low and in most instances the officer need only state that they smelt marijuana or something along those lines to have enough to conduct additional investigation. It is easier to get evidence suppressed under this prong of the exception but still quite difficult.

Logan Criminal Defense Attorney | Suppressing the Evidence

The constitution provides citizens with certain rights that are meant to protect them from over zealous law enforcement. However, enforcing these rights can often be extremely difficult and that is why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you in your case. At Ogden Criminal Defense we will look into every detail of your case to see if there is a way to suppress the evidence and we will let you know what your chances are and what the risks are of trying to suppress the evidence. To find out more please contact us for a free consultation.

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