Search and Seizure: Were Your Rights Violated?

Posted by Richard Lawson | May 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

Both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Georgia Constitution prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. You have a constitutionally protected expectation of privacy that prevents law enforcement officers from searching you or your vehicle without probable cause or a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Any evidence obtained illegally cannot be used against you in a criminal case. If you are facing a charge based on evidence obtained after an illegal search and seizure, contact an experienced legal team that will fight aggressively to prove the police violated your rights.

There are exceptions to this rule, however. Under the "Plain View Doctrine," an officer can search your vehicle when he can see incriminatory evidence from outside your vehicle. This is why officers commonly shine a flashlight into your rear windows and look around your vehicle while questioning you during a traffic stop. Further, if a trained law enforcement officer can detect the odor of burning marijuana coming from your vehicle, this will be sufficient probable cause to search your vehicle and could lead the officer to initiate an investigation to determine whether you are driving under the influence of drugs.

If the officer has reason to believe that you are armed and present a danger to him or others, he can legally frisk you for weapons upon exiting your vehicle. An officer cannot conduct pat-downs are a matter of routine or policy, there must be specific facts available to the officer to believe that you have a weapon. It is not enough for him to believe you "look" dangerous or that he pulled you over in a dangerous area. If you appear nervous, this alone will not create cause to search you or your vehicle.

Any evidence obtained illegally cannot be used against you in a criminal case. Officers can legally search you or your vehicle after you have been placed under arrest, but there are exceptions to this rule as well. Police can conduct an inventory of the passenger compartment of your vehicle if the vehicle will be impounded or when it is reasonably believed that the vehicle obtains evidence of the offense of arrest. If you were arrested for driving on a suspended license, no evidence of that offense could be found from a search of your vehicle so any search incident to arrest would be illegal.

When arrested for DUI, though, the officer can search your vehicle for evidence of intoxication such as an open container of alcohol. Officers cannot conduct an inventory search, however, when the car is released to a sober driver with your permission or when you have requested the car be released to a specific towing service. An officer can search anything that you consent to being searched. Your consent must be voluntary, though, and not the result of duress or of any promises made to you by the officer. There is no reason to consent to a search of you or your vehicle, and if the officer has to ask for your permission that typically means he cannot otherwise legally conduct a search.

About the Author

Richard Lawson

Richard S. Lawson is passionate about intoxicated driving defense. Unlike some attorneys, Mr. Lawson devotes 100% of his legal practice to helping people stand up for their rights against DUI charges. For more than 20 years, Mr. Lawson has dutifully fought for his clients' freedom, resolving more 4,900 impaired driving cases during the course of his career. Today, Mr. Lawson has developed a reputation as a skilled negotiator and continues to help clients by fighting to keep them out of jail.


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