Lance Turnbow, attorney limits his practice to defending criminal charges and he sees the same issues come up over and over again. About 80% of the cases he handles as an attorney start out as nothing more than routine traffic stops. Frequently it is for speeding, or failure to maintain a single lane. However, these traffic stops do not end with the officer issuing a ticket or warning. They end with a search of Lance Turnbow Attorney, client’s vehicle and a trip to jail.
What does an officer need in order to legally search your vehicle?
To legally search your vehicle an officer needs one of three things: a warrant, your consent, or probable cause. Warrants are rarely involved in traffic stops so we won’t elaborate on that element. However, consent and probable cause are two things that frequently play a role.
If an officer has probable cause, he or she can search your vehicle. Basically they have to have probable cause to believe that criminal activity has occurred or is about to occur. Usually this probable cause comes from something the officer sees or smells. Frequently officers say they can smell marijuana because if they do smell it, they have probable cause. They also know it is very difficult to contest what someone could or could not smell.
Law enforcement officers also frequently see items in plain view that give them probable cause to search. Pipes, paraphernalia, open containers, and weapons are the most common. Once an officer sees any of these things they will search the vehicle.
Lance is always amazed at how many of his clients consent to a search even though they know there is something illegal in the vehicle. Officers are very good at convincing people that if they will just “come clean” everything will be better. However, all it does for you is put you in a position where you can’t contest the search.
So what should you do if they want to search?
If you know you have something illegal in the vehicle the first thing you should do is deny them consent to search! They will probably still search and say they had probable cause, but Lance Turnbow, Attorney can contest a bad search and keep that evidence out of court. Once you consent, you have no argument that they could not have legally searched.
As they check your vehicle, do not make any statements that can be used against you later. If they arrest you, hire a good criminal defense attorney that knows how to win suppression hearings and hold officers accountable for improper procedure like Lance Turnbow Attorney at Law.