The law regarding searches and seizures is governed by the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Constitutional case law arising from the 4th Amendment is highly fact-specific: rights depend on where an individual is (home, car, friend's house, etc.), as well as the level of suspicion aroused (probable cause, reasonable suspicion, etc.).
The following is a brief overview on how and when a police search of an automobile complies with constitutional norms. For more information, contact a skilled Nashua NH criminal lawyer.
The Warrant Requirement and its Exceptions
The general rule is that prior to conducting a search the police must possess a warrant. This is because, at its core, the 4th Amendment is about protecting the privacy interests of individuals and their possessions.
There are, however, quite a few exceptions to this general rule. This is particularly true when it comes to vehicle searches. This is primarily due to two reasons: (1) since vehicles are so mobile, it is practically quite difficult to obtain a search beforehand (“exigent circumstances”); and (2) within the hierarchy of what constitutes “premises” for the 4th Amendment, vehicles are not viewed as high on this list and are therefore deserving of a more limited protection. (This is partly because there is less of an expectation of privacy in an automobile, as compared to one's home). A Hillsborough county criminal lawyer can explain further the warrant requirement.
The following are two exceptions to the warrant requirement for automobile searches that, if met, will permit police to conduct a lawful search of the vehicle in the absence of a warrant:
1. Criminal activity: If an officer has probable cause that a vehicle contains contraband or there is evidence of a crime or that the vehicle was involved in a crime, an officer may lawfully search the entire vehicle.
2. Arrest and vehicle compound: If the occupants of an automobile have been arrested and the vehicle they were is was taken into police custody, the police may conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle.
To discuss automobile searches, or criminal law more generally, reach out to Joseph Fricano, a Nashua criminal lawyer, today. The initial consultation is free of charge.