You are driving along on your way home from Atlantic City, having a good old time with your buddies, and then you see the flashing light in your rearview mirror. You panic as you begin to feel that horrible feeling in your gut. Perhaps someone in the car has some pot on them or they’ve been drinking. Can police legally search all the passengers in your car?
First things first, no police officer is allowed to search any person in the car – or the vehicle itself – without probable cause. Further, if they believe there is a reason to conduct a search, they better be ready to explain to a judge why the search needed to take place without a legal warrant.
There are four instances where police are allowed to search your vehicle or person without a warrant:
- You give the cop permission (Obviously, this isn’t the smartest move if you know or suspect there is something illegal in the car.)
- A crime has been committed and the police officer has probable cause to think you are concealing evidence in your car and not completing the search would risk losing the evidence
- When a cop believes his or her own personal safety is at risk, they are permitted to conduct a warrant-less search
- You have been arrested and charged with a crime, assault with a deadly weapon, for example. If a cop believes that you are hiding the gun in your vehicle, they can search
However, if there is an imminent need to conduct the search – or even after they have a warrant – police do not need to be concerned about which objects belong to whom in the vehicle. If any legal search turns up drugs or weapons or stolen goods or anything else the police were either searching for or found accidentally, it’s likely all people in the car will be arrested and charged with a crime.
If you are ever pulled over and a police officer requests to search your vehicle or person, or that of any passenger in your car, be polite and decline their request. Let them know you believe they need to obtain a warrant to conduct the search. If they proceed with the search anyway, an experienced criminal defense attorney will likely be able to get any evidence they find thrown out of court.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of an illegal search, contact seasoned Atlantic City NJ criminal defense lawyer John W. Tumelty for sound legal advice.