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What constitutes a legal search and seizure?

Under the Fourth Amendment, all citizens are protected against unlawful search and seizures. However, many Ohio motorists end up facing drug charges after an officer uncovers evidence of a crime during an illegal search and seizure of their vehicle. If your attorney can prove that the evidence was obtained during an unlawful search, the charges you face for drug crimes could be dropped altogether.

How do you know if an officer legally searched your vehicle after a traffic stop? There are certain situations where a search of your vehicle is legal even if the officer does not have a valid search warrant. First, an officer is permitted to search your vehicle if you give him or her consent to do so. Even if an officer asks to search your vehicle, you are not obligated to say yes. However, if you do give your consent, any evidence found by the officer can be used against you later in court. Your vehicle may also be searched if you have already been placed under arrest or if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that you may be carrying a concealed weapon or something else that may put the officer's life in danger.

An officer may also conduct a search if they have probable cause to suspect that there is evidence of a crime in your vehicle. An officer can also search your vehicle if they observe evidence of drug possession or other unlawful activity in "plain view." Generally, plain view means that the officer looked in the window and saw drug paraphernalia or drug residue on the seat or floor. If the officer notices evidence in plain view, this evidence becomes probable cause and he or she is then permitted to continue searching the vehicle for evidence related to what he or she already saw. However, searches for evidence unrelated to the evidence found are not generally permitted.

If an officer illegally searched your vehicle, the evidence obtained may not be used against you in court. A criminal defense attorney can help determine whether the search of your vehicle was legal.

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