U.S. citizens are protected by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution against unlawful searches and seizures. The amendment states “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,
papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” What this means is that Michigan police officers along with all other law enforcement officers across the U.S. cannot search you unless they have probable cause or a valid reason to do so.
According to Cornell Law School, “courts usually find probable cause when there is a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed (for an arrest) or when evidence of the crime is present in the place to be searched (for a search).” Now, under most circumstances, an officer cannot just pull you over and begin to search you or your vehicle unless one of the following grounds exist:
- You voluntarily consented to the search.
If there is no evidence that a crime is being committed or you intend to commit a crime, chances are, the officer who stopped you doesn’t have probable cause to search you, but still may want to. In this case, he/she may ask you politely if you would mind if they conducted a search. Now, because most citizens are unaware of their legal rights or are fearful of what might happen if they were to say no, they agree to the search. And in the event the officer does find something in your possession that could incriminate you, you can then be arrested and generally won’t be able to claim the officer unlawfully searched you as you gave them permission to do so.
- They obtained a warrant.
If an officer has obtained a warrant to search you, unfortunately, they have the legal right to do so.
- The officer has probable cause to believe you committed a crime or intend to commit one.
If an officer has a reason to believe you committed a crime and are housing evidence on you, they can then search you and/or your vehicle. An example of a circumstance that would permit an officer to conduct a search of your vehicle provided by a traffic ticket attorney is as follows:
- Let’s say the officer who pulled you over sees blood on your front seat, a ripped up purse in the car, and you have a black eye. While either of those things individually are not a sign that a crime was committed, all “in conjunction could be suspicious to an officer” and they could use these suspicions to conduct a search.
- Evidence that indicates a crime is being committed is sitting in plain view [Source: Business Insider].
If an officer approaches your vehicle and sees a bag of marijuana sitting on your seat, they don’t need any other reason to search your vehicle other than the fact that you have an illegal drug sitting in their plain view.
- You are placed under arrest.
If a Michigan officer arrests you, they then have the right to search you and your vehicle. And if this happens, you definitely want to contact a MI criminal defense lawyer who can defend your rights and possibly get your charges thrown out.
- “Exigent circumstances” exist.
An officer of the law “can break every rule if he suspects the evidence is about to be destroyed.”
Now, if you believe that a Michigan officer has violated your rights and illegally searched you or vehicle, contact a Detroit, MI police brutality attorney to find out how you can file a complaint against the officer or take further action. In the event the unlawful search resulted in an officer becoming physically abusive toward you followed by you being arrested, it is also recommended you speak with a police misconduct lawyer as soon as possible who can review with you what your rights are and the forms of action you can take against the officer and/or the department they work for.