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Is it ever unlawful for police to search a car?

When a New Mexico police officer makes a traffic stop, any number of issues may arise that raise suspicion as to whether a crime was being committed when the officer pulled the vehicle over. In many cases, such suspicion has to do with drugs or alcohol. A motorist has rights, which include those protected under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which ensures a right to privacy.

Many traffic stops lead to a search of the driver’s vehicle. But are these searches always lawful? The answer may help a person defend his or her rights.

Legitimate reasons for police to lawfully search a vehicle

If a police officer approaches the driver’s side of a vehicle and notices an open container of alcohol in the car, that is all he or she needs to see to conduct a search of the vehicle. Here are some additional legitimate causes for police to search inside of a car or in the trunk:

  • Police officer asks to search a vehicle and driver consents
  • Police officer shows warrant
  • Police officer reasonably feels safety is at risk because of possible hidden firearm or other weapon in the car or trunk
  • Police officer arrests someone pursuant to the arrest

Items that are seized during a search may be offered as evidence if the person taken into police custody winds up facing criminal charges.

Opportunity to refute charges in court

There are numerous defense strategies that may help someone facing criminal charges to mitigate their circumstances. For instance, if the evidence shows that a personal rights violation has taken place leading up to, during or following the arrest, it is just cause to challenge the evidence or to request a case dismissal. It is always a good idea to seek defense guidance from an experienced criminal law attorney before proceedings begin.