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Is My Trunk Protected from a Random Search During a Traffic Stop?

by Byrne Anderson
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The police can search your car without a warrant, but only if there is probable cause.

A traffic stop can be the beginning of a years-long ordeal and a series of injustices that ends in you trying to rebuild your life after serving a prison sentence. The police might pull you over for a trivial reason, such as a broken taillight, or even for no reason at all. Before you know it, the cops are making all kinds of excuses to search your car, a K9 unit is on its way, and if you fight back, you are facing charges for resisting an officer as well as for drug possession. This is unjust, and some of it is illegal; whether the police should search your car is one thing, and whether they will is another matter. If the police search your vehicle without probable cause, you should contact an Austin criminal defense lawyer at the first opportunity.

Probable Cause and Your Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects you from unreasonable search and seizure. In most cases, the police cannot search your body and clothing, your residence, or your personal belongings unless they have a warrant. Of course, automobiles did not exist when the Bill of Rights, which includes the Fourth Amendment, was written, and Carroll v. United States, a 1925 Supreme Court decision, established the rules about searching cars.

The police can search your car, including the trunk, at a traffic stop, but only if they have probable cause. “Probable cause” means that the police have reasonable suspicion that you have illegal items in your car. Simply violating a traffic law, such as having expired tags, is not probable cause for a search; if you have expired tags, the officer should just issue a citation and let you go on your way.

The following are instances where the officer would have probable cause to search the car:

  • Weapons or illegal drugs are visible in the car
  • The car smells like marijuana
  • You were driving erratically, causing suspicion that you are under the influence of drugs
  • Your appearance or behavior indicates that you are under the influence of drugs

Some of the criteria for probable cause are subjective. Many defendants have won cases by arguing that the police searched their car without probable cause. If the search seems like a case of racial profiling, it probably is. If you are charged with a misdemeanor or felony because of a search of your vehicle at a traffic stop, it does not automatically mean that you will be convicted.  The jury can only convict a defendant if all the defendant’s constitutional rights have been upheld throughout the case. One of the first things you should do after being arrested after a search at a traffic stop is call a criminal defense lawyer.

Contact an Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer After a Traffic Stop

If the police violated your Fourth Amendment rights by searching your car without probable cause, you should fight the charges. Contact Granger and Mueller in Austin, Texas or call (512) 474-9999.

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