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Can an Officer Search my Trunk During a Traffic Stop?

Nothing is worse than seeing the unmistakable blue and red flashing lights of a police car in your rearview mirror while you are driving down the road. When the officer comes to your car door, he or she will likely ask to see your driver’s license and registration. The officer may also use a flashlight to look inside your car, and the officer might even ask to look inside your trunk. In those circumstances, the question often arises as to whether or not you can rightfully refuse the officer access to your trunk or some other part of your vehicle. The answer to that question depends upon a variety of factors.

Sometimes, officers engage in unreasonably intrusive searches and seizures. When that happens, any evidence obtained as a result – including incriminating evidence – may be suppressed. The experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorneys at Kidwell, South, Beasley & Haley can assist you with defending your criminal matter, including representing you at a criminal trial.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that individuals are protected from searches and seizures that are unreasonable. Under most circumstances, a police officer is permitted to undertake a reasonable search of a person or property if he or she has the necessary probable cause.

Probable cause is difficult to define, but it is more than a mere reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is going on (and that the suspect is involved in the criminal activity). A person’s appearance or behavior may be suspicious enough under the circumstances to justify probable cause for a police officer to undertake a search.

Searching the Vehicle for Something Illegal

In cases where there is a smell emanating from a person’s vehicle, this may amount to the necessary probable cause to search the vehicle, on the suspicion that the driver is transporting drugs or some other illegal substance. In that instance, the officer may be permitted to search your vehicle from the front console to the trunk, based upon this suspicion.

Also, under the plain view doctrine, a police officer can search and seize incriminating evidence that is in plain view. This includes areas of the vehicle that are within the driver’s reach area, and to which the driver has easy access. If the police officer has probable cause to undertake a search of the vehicle, he or she may also inspect and search items belonging to passengers, such as a purse, which may hold the item that the officer is searching for (such as drugs and other illegal items or substances).

Motor vehicle drivers have control over the vehicle’s trunk. Since the trunk may be used to conceal illegal items or substances – and if the police officer reasonably believes that the object of his or her search is located in the trunk – then the officer may legally search the trunk. It is also important to keep in mind that a police officer need not have a search warrant in order to search a motor vehicle.

Call a Tennessee Criminal Defense Attorney About Your Criminal Charge Today

If you have been charged with a crime and believe that your Fourth Amendment rights have been violated, the legal team at Kidwell, South, Beasley & Haley may be able to help. For a free legal consultation and case evaluation with a Tennessee criminal defense lawyer, please contact us online today for more information.

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