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The Police Can Search Your Car if Items are in Plain View

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Before law enforcement officials can search your car, they must follow a specific protocol. This is done to ensure that the search is conducted according to state and federal laws. Not only is this protocol a safety precaution, it also ensures that any evidence collected by police will be admissible in court.

In order to conduct a stop and search of a vehicle, police offers must first establish probable cause. Probable cause can be something like erratic driving, suspicious activity or a car that fits the description of a car involved in a crime. If probable cause is established, the officer can stop the car and investigate.

If a law enforcement officer believes that there is a reasonable suspicion concerning a certain vehicle, that officer may stop the vehicle. This is called an investigative stop. During this search, if the officer has a reasonable belief that contraband or criminal activity is present inside the car, he or she may detain the occupants and conduct a search.

Some people may not know about another type of search. This is called a plain view search, and it has different requirements.

What Does “In Plain View” Mean?

Evidence that is in plain view inside of a vehicle is defined as:

  • Any illegal or suspicious materials that can be easily seen by an officer during or prior to a search
  • Any illegal or suspicious materials spotted inside a vehicle by an officer who is moving around the car or shining a flashlight inside the vehicle windows (neither of these actions constitute an unreasonable breach of privacy and almost any evidence found can be admissible in court)
  • Any illegal or suspicious materials in plain view of an officer responding to the scene of an accident.

Also, seeing evidence in plain view might also be grounds for the officer to detain the vehicle’s occupants and conduct a more thorough search of the car. This is especially true if the evidence in plain view is a firearm or some other type of deadly weapon.

Legal Defenses Against Plain View Evidence

A criminal defense attorney may be able to use several tactics to fight criminal charges against the defendant because of evidence that was seized in plain view. For example, the defense attorney may argue that the evidence was not in plain view and was tampered with by the officer.

Also, a defense attorney may try to prove that there was no reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle in the first place, therefore rendering any evidence from inside the car invalid.

For more information about plain view searches or to learn more about inadmissible evidence, talk to Brett A. Podolsky at 713-227-0087.

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