No one in Cincinnati wants to be pulled over, but the situation can escalate from a mere traffic infraction to more serious charges if police believe the motorist has drugs in his or her vehicle. In this intimidating situation, motorists may wonder what drug crimes they might be accused of and whether the search of their vehicle for potential drugs is even legal.
The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects us from unlawful searches and seizures. In general, this means police must have a warrant or consent to perform a search. However, there are some instances in which officers can perform a search of a vehicle without first procuring a warrant or without the permission of the motorist.
When it comes to the search warrant requirement there is a lower expectation of privacy when it comes to searches of automobiles. Police may search a motorist’s vehicle if they have probable cause to believe that there is incriminating evidence in the automobile, if the officer has the reasonable belief that they must search the vehicle for their own safety or if the motorist has been arrested for a crime (such as drug possession) and the search is in conjunction with that arrest.
It is important to note that officers must have reasonable suspicion that a driver committed a traffic infraction in order to detain them, and minor offenses such as speeding may not necessarily justify a vehicle search without more reason. However, once an arrest occurs or there is probable cause that a drug crime has occurred, then police may be able to search the motorist’s vehicle. It is essential that motorists understand their Fourth Amendment rights, so they can determine if they were subjected to an unlawful search and seizure.