The Fourth Amendment of The U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unlawful police searches and seizures at the hands of law enforcement.
The law applies not only to property but also to drivers and a person’s vehicle. If you are facing charges following a Florida vehicle search, you need to know your rights and address this legal issue right away.
Read on to learn how the Fourth Amendment and Florida law protect you against the unlawful search of your personal vehicle. We will cover what to do during a police search, when a search is constitutional, what steps to take if you are facing charges, and more.
What Does Florida Law Say About Vehicle Search?
Federal and Florida laws protect you from unlawful and invasive searches.
Generally speaking, searches are unlawful if law enforcement does not have the proper search warrant. However, there are situations in which police officers are within their rights to search your car.
Below we detail what the law says about situational vehicle searches.
What If Your Vehicle Is Searched Without a Warrant?
If law enforcement searches your vehicle without a proper search warrant, any evidence obtained by the police may be inadmissible in court. Enough evidence can include everything from conversation to illegal items like narcotics, unlicensed weapons, or any types of illegal activity that was happening in a car.
When Can Cops Search Your Car Without a Warrant?
Usually, the police search your vehicle if they have a property warrant. However, they’re also within their rights if they have probable cause to do an inventory search of your car.
Courts define probable cause as evidence noticeably present in the area in question.
For example, if a law enforcement officer was in sight of contraband in plain view or plain smell, such as drugs or a broken taillight, that would be probable cause. Another instance of probable cause is if the police caught you in criminal activity, for example, contraband sitting in your passenger seat. The easiest way for a cop to search your car is if there is probable cause for them to search your vehicle after a routine traffic stop or minor offense, such as running a red light.
Other circumstances that would allow an officer to search without a warrant include:
- Providing consent. If you give police explicit permission or consent to enter your car and to do car searches, then they may. If the police use coercion or intimidation to solicit consent and to do an improper search, then it’s in your constitutional rights to bring that to the attention of your lawyer.
- Search incident for police arrest. The police may check your vehicle without a warrant for weapons or evidence in the case of an Incident to Arrest, such as a felony charge or previous criminal arrest. This exception is in place to protect law enforcement officers.
- Emergency purposes. To get a warrant, an officer must write up the document, send it in for review, and take it to a judge for approval. They may not have time to go through this process in different circumstances. If waiting would endanger public safety or risk the destruction of evidence, the officer may proceed to search the vehicle without a warrant.
What to Do During a Florida Vehicle Search?
As a driver, it is important to know what to do during vehicle searches in Florida.
Below, we cover essential information to help you protect your rights and keep yourself safe.
What Rights Do You Have When Police Say They Want to Search Your Car?
If no probable cause is present, an officer can ask to look inside your car anyway. They may be taking advantage of any nervousness you are feeling, hoping you will provide consent to a search.
Frequently, this tactic works.
An officer can legally search your car if you have given your consent, but it is entirely within your rights to deny consent.
Additionally, officers may ask if you are under the influence, have narcotics inside your car, or even if there are other reasons you could be in trouble. Here, an officer is hoping you will willingly provide that information.
You are not obligated to answer any of these questions. If you do, it could be a reasonable cause for them to investigate your personal belongings, such as your car, and what is inside. To avoid unknowingly providing consent to search your car, you can ask the officer if you are being arrested or if you are facing a legal issue. If they cannot provide a direct answer, they may not have probable cause to search your car. Though you cannot lie to the police, you are under no obligation to answer questions directly.
What Should You Do When You Are Subjected to a Vehicle Search?
Whether or not an officer presents a warrant, you should not get in their way.
One should never get physical or try to stand in the officer’s way when they are trying to search your vehicle. However, you can make it obvious that you do not consent to a car search. Explicitly saying so can reduce the chance of an officer going forward with the inventory search, and if your denial of consent is recorded, the officer may be held responsible for unreasonable searches of personal property without a warrant.
We know such circumstances can be scary and frustrating, but it is in your best interest to remain calm. Try to remain courteous and level-headed. If possible, make mental notes of details like the time and the officer’s action. This information may be helpful if you have to go to court later on.
What Should You Do If You Are Charged With a Crime as a Result of a Vehicle Search?
Facing charges is stressful for anyone, but the situation gets even more complicated when the charges result from a Florida vehicle search to other serious consequences, such as jail time.
It can be challenging to defend your case when law enforcement abuses its power. Police are under a great deal of pressure, but that does not give them the right to violate your civil rights and forcibly enter your personal property.
If you find yourself facing accusations after a vehicle search, it is in your best interest to hire a capable attorney to help you navigate the repercussions. An experienced attorney will scrutinize the details of your case and make sure all claims and evidence against you were acquired legally, with good standing in court.
Facing an unlawful vehicle search with a capable defense attorney by your side will make a world a difference.
Victim of An Unlawful Search and Seizure? Mike G Law Can Help!
Mike G Law will invest in your case, taking the time to listen and learn about the full details of the situation. We will fight to prove your innocence and help you walk away from the situation with the best possible outcome.
At Mike G Law, our criminal defense team is acutely aware of the complicated search and seizure laws. Mike G is a former prosecutor, making him an expert on how judges, prosecutors, and police work during your case. He is proud to serve and protect the rights of citizens in Hillsborough, Hernando, Pinellas, and Pasco County.
Charged with a crime after a Florida vehicle search? Contact Mike G law today for a FREE consultation on your case.