Is it legal to search a vehicle due to prior drug conviction? 46 Answers as of July 08, 2013

I was pulled over for: improper registration of plate lamp. The car was legal except for the plate lamp. My boyfriend's son is the owner of car. Can the vehicle be searched due to prior drug convictions?

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Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC
Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC | Jacob Peter Sartz IV
Speaking generally, if there are issues with how a search was conducted, the defense may be able to file a motion to suppress and prohibit the alleged incriminatory evidence from being admitted at trial. However, motions to suppress should only be filed if they are timely researched, properly prepared, and part of the trial strategy for a particular case.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 11/11/2011
DeVito & Visconti, PA
DeVito & Visconti, PA | John E DeVito
No, the police have no right to search a motor vehicle that has been stopped for a civil motor vehicle infraction. The police can give you a ticket and let you go. If the police had grounds to arrest you (for example they have a warrant for your arrest), then they could impound the vehicle and conduct an inventory search of the vehicle. If you were charged a crime (not just a civil motor vehicle infraction) the police could search the vehicle for evidence of the crime or impound the vehicle and conduct and inventory search before it is released to the tow company. A good criminal attorney will know how to deal with the situation.
Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
Replied: 10/24/2011
Cynthia Henley, Lawyer
Cynthia Henley, Lawyer | Cynthia Henley
No, unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe that there are drugs in the car (such as the odor of marijuana, the odor of dryer sheets which are used to mask drug odors, a hit on the car by a drug dog, etc.) You have standing to object if you were driving the car. If there were drugs found in the car, depending on where they were located (and whether they could be smelled, etc.), they may have a difficult time getting a conviction.
Answer Applies to: Texas
Replied: 10/24/2011
The McDonnell Law Firm, PLLC
The McDonnell Law Firm, PLLC | Patrick J. McDonnell
No. They would need probable cause based on the incident at hand to do a search of the vehicle, barring some exceptions to the warrant requirement.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 10/21/2011
Michael Anthony Wing, P.C.
Michael Anthony Wing, P.C. | Michael Anthony Wing
The facts of the case determine the answer, and your hypothetical does not provide enough information. See the recent US Supreme Court case of Gant v Arizona (2009) for the legal analysis.
Answer Applies to: Alabama
Replied: 10/21/2011
    Gutin and Wolverton
    Gutin and Wolverton | Harley Gutin
    No.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 6/3/2013
    Law Office of Richard Williams
    Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
    The police must have some sort of reasonable suspicion or permission to search a car following a routine traffic stop. The fact of a prior drug offense is not sufficient.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 10/20/2011
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    No, a search of the auto will still need to be done upon probable cause to believe there are contraband items present or a search warrant would need to be obtained. A person's prior record is not enough to justify a search.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 10/20/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    A vehicle can only be searched if consent is given or if the police have probable cause to believe that something illegal is present. If they didn't find anything incriminating then there really is no harm against you. If you feel you have been wronged, you can always file a complaint with the police department.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/20/2011
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    No, being stopped for a burned out license plate light, in and of itself in not grounds for searching a vehicle, the officer must arrest the offender, and can search the car pursuant to a LAWFUL arrest, usually for something serious, like driving on suspended license or some other crime. If he could have posted his license, the police should NOT search the car.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Donahue, Sowa & Magana Attorneys at Law
    Donahue, Sowa & Magana Attorneys at Law | Glenn M. Sowa
    No. The police officer must have more grounds than that to search the vehicle.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    If you are being charged with a crime due to the search, you should ask your attorney what defenses may be raised. If you do not have an attorney, you should meet with one and discuss representation as soon as possible.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Betts Legal Services
    Betts Legal Services | Shawn M. Betts
    No. Prior record has nothing to do with the legality of a search. And officer must have probably cause to search a vehicle when the stop is for a minor traffic violation, and must have at least a reasonable suspicion of drug presence before he can even as for consent to search.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C.
    Reeves Law Firm, P.C. | Roy L. Reeves
    I need more details. There is a US Supreme Court case called Arizona v. Gant. It came down early this year and changed a lot of vehicle search and seizure law - for the better if you ask me. Prior to Gant, a cop could search "for the cop's own protection" though this was not an unlimited exception to permission, it was widely abused since the cops always said the suspect looked nervous, would glance at the floor or glove compartment, etc. (places where weapons could be hidden) so the cop would justify his actions, even if blowing smoke to do so. The other thing is cops would search cars "incident to arrest". Basically, a cop has the right to arrest (or give a ticket) for Class C Misdemeanor crimes (traffic tickets like the one you describe) and some cops chose to arrest and then search incident to arrest. Gant made this type of search illegal saying in affect that once the Defendant was arrested he could not reach any weapons or contraband in the vehicle, therefore the search is not exigent and a warrant is required. If you were pulled over, your car searched without your permission, and you were charged with a crime arising out of something found in the car during this search, you need a lawyer and you need it now. Do not think for one second the DA is your friend or that the law cares. The legal system is just that, a system. It has too many moving parts with too many preconceived opinions and you are just (this is not meant to be demeaning, but in the grand scheme of things you are) a very small inconvenience to the legal grist mill. If I could change one thing about our legal system it would be this, every Defendant would have to be looked at by every part of the system as a human being, unfortunately, Defendants are not considered "Citizens accused" they are considered "Defendants" which wrongly implies you must defend yourself. Until the system makes a change, if charged, you inherit a problem. Do not think this is like TV, the cops never (read that again, the cops NEVER) make any effort to show you did not do something. Once the decision is made (on the side of the road) that you are guilty of something, you are screwed by a system that assumes (contrary to the constitution) that you are in fact guilty.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly
    Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly | Brendan M. Kelly
    A prior drug conviction is not an exception to the warrant requirement or consent. So the car should not have been searched just based upon the prior.
    Answer Applies to: Nebraska
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider
    Law Office of Peter F. Goldscheider | Peter Goldscheider
    Not is that is the only reason for the search.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/8/2013
    Shane Law Office
    Shane Law Office | Robert J. Shane
    A vehicle cannot be searched by the police on the sole grounds that the owner has a prior drug conviction. In order to justify a warrantless search of a car for drugs, police will need to establish probable cause to believe that drugs are located inside the car. The officer could establish probable cause to search the car by observing drugs or paraphernalia in plain view inside the vehicle or by detecting an odor of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle. Also, if the police have reasonable suspicion that the car may contain drugs, they would be authorized to briefly detain you in odor to have a drug detection dog walk around the outside of your car. If the drug detection dog alerts the officer to the presence of drugs in the car, police would have established probable cause to justify a warrantless search of the car. The only other way police could search the car of an owner with a prior drug conviction would be if the owner consented to the search.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    Prior convictions are not probable cause to search a vehicle. Unless you have committed a crime or there is consent, the police need probable cause to search without a search warrant signed by a judge. The police can still search the people in the vehicle, the vehicle itself, and any luggage, purses, bags, or other containers, but the evidence will be suppressed unless the search was legal and did not violate your right to be free from unreasonable searched. The police can always say that they saw contraband in plain sight, smelled pot, or that they were in fear of their safety and searched for weapons, but it will have to be considered reasonable by the judge or the evidence will not be available at trial.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Law Offices of Martina A. Vigil, PC
    Law Offices of Martina A. Vigil, PC | Martina A. Vigil
    Not unless you yourself were on search and seizure terms for probation or parole. Generally, the police cannot search your car without a warrant.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Law Offices of Kenneth Wincorn P.C.
    Law Offices of Kenneth Wincorn P.C. | Kenneth Wincorn
    No, that is not a valid reason.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Law Office of Richard Southard
    Law Office of Richard Southard | Richard C Southard
    Ultimately, it will be up to a judge deciding a suppression motion to determine the legality of the search. Based on the facts that you present, it is not a legal search. However, I wouldn't be surprised if the officer testified that you gave verbal consent to search, which is what usually happens in my experience. Then it comes down to his believability. Another issue you will have is whether or not you have actual standing to contest the search. My advice would be to hire an experienced defense attorney to fight this for you. Legal disclaimer: All answers are for information purposes only. Answering this question or any future questions does not form any attorney-client relationship. Be mindful, that answers are limited by the limited facts presented by the questioner and are not meant to take the place of competent legal advice by an attorney fully informed of all the facts surrounding your case. However, be aware that nothing posted in a public forum such as this can be deemed confidential or privileged communication.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Michael Breczinski
    Michael Breczinski | Michael Breczinski
    Well if the person driving is on probation or parole his probation or parole officer can do exactly that. Outside of that the answer is no.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Law Office of Kathryn L. Hudson
    Law Office of Kathryn L. Hudson | Kathryn L. Hudson
    The answer is no. The police can only search a car without a warrant if the reason for the search is connected to the reason for the traffic stop. Having a prior drug conviction does not allow for searches without a warrant.
    Answer Applies to: Arkansas
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Jonathan S. Willett Attorney at Law
    Jonathan S. Willett Attorney at Law | Jonathan S. Willett
    The scope of the stop and search of the car should be limited to current or suspected current illegal activity. The police need more than a person with a prior drug conviction and a broken light to search the vehicle.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 10/19/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    If the cop recognized the person as a prior convictee that may give rise to probable cause to search the car.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Law Office of Jonathan T. Sarre
    Law Office of Jonathan T. Sarre | Jonathan T. Sarre
    Normally a person on probation can be forced to allow a search of their home, person or vehicle as a condition of probation if their probation officer has "reasonable grounds" to believe that the search will reveal evidence of a probation violation. Sometimes, this type of condition can be changed to allow essentially random searches. The thing about your case is that usually the probationer is there at the time of the search. I suppose the police can call him and get his consent but it would be rare for a probationer to have a random search condition on his car if he wasn't with it.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    Possibly. Was anyone on parole or probation? If so, then yes, the police can usually search.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Miel & Carr, PLC
    Miel & Carr, PLC | Keeley D Heath
    A prior drug conviction alone would not be reason enough to search the vehicle. The police would have to have probable cause to believe that there was some other crime in progress currently. Of course, if the search was consented to, then the police would not need a valid reason to search the vehicle.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Attorney Paul Lancia
    Attorney Paul Lancia | Paul Lancia
    You should not represent yourself in court.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    The Law Offices of Gabriel Dorman
    The Law Offices of Gabriel Dorman | Gabriel Dorman
    Whether or not the search of the vehicle was legal depends on all of the facts and circumstances involved. As such, in order to properly evaluate this issue more information is needed beyond the fact of a prior drug conviction.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Connell-Savela
    Connell-Savela | Jason Savela
    No, prior drug possession is not probable cause of anything.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    Whose convictions?
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 7/8/2013
    Law Office of Michael Brodsky
    Law Office of Michael Brodsky | Michael Brodsky
    Warrantless searches are unconstitutional unless they fit within some narrowly defined exceptions including emergencies and consent. So unless the contraband was visible from the window of the vehicle or consent to search was obtained, the evidence should be suppressed.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    If and when a car may be legally searched depends on the facts. An officer may search the car if he has reasonable suspicion that he will find an illegal item in the car. An officer may search the car if the driver or passenger is on probation. He may search the car if he sees in plain view something illegal. The police may search the car when they make an arrest of someone in the car. If the car is taken to a police impound lot they may search the car as part of an inventory search. It is not legal to search at car only because the driver has a record yet is not on probation or parole. As you can see it depends on the facts to determine if the search was legal.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    No.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 6/3/2013
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S.
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S. | Steve Freeborn
    If the investigating officer has probable cause that a crime has been convicted, the officer fears for his/her safety, or there is something illegal that is in plain view, then yes.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Beaulier Law Office
    Beaulier Law Office | Maury Beaulier
    Challenging the validity of a search may often result in the suppression of evidence resulting from the search. Whether or not a search is valid, or whether arguments exist that it was a violation of the fourteenth amendment and State constitutional protections requires a full review of the facts of the case. Accordingly, you would be wise to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. As a general rule, law enforcement may not make a search without a valid warrant supported by probable cause. There are, however, numerous warrant exceptions including cases where contraband is in plain sight, where the search is related to officer safety, or where exigent circumstances exist supported by additional probable case. Having a prior drug conviction would be insufficient without significantly more to provide a basis for any type of a search.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law
    Gary Moore, Attorney at Law | Gary Moore
    No.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 6/3/2013
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law | Mark Thiessen
    No. they need another independent reason for probable cause. Be careful, they lie about that all the time.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Coulter's Law
    Coulter's Law | Coulter K. Richardson
    If you consented, yes. Otherwise, no. The police will tell you lots of things, most of which are bunk. They want to encourage/coerce you into giving your consent. The police has no obligation to speak the truth to you.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    Whose convictions, when were the convictions. If the convictions are yours and you are on probation for drug offenses and one of the conditions was a search of your vehicle OR the one you are operating, search is legal. Any other situation, hire an attorney and discuss the issues with him.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    Law Offices of Elliott Zarabi
    Law Offices of Elliott Zarabi | Elliott Zarabi
    If on probation, it is usually a term of probation to submit to searches.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    The Chastaine Law Office
    The Chastaine Law Office | Michael Chastaine
    Not legally unless he is on parole or probation.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    The Schiffer Firm, LLC
    The Schiffer Firm, LLC | Joshua G. Schiffer
    Prior Drug convictions in itself would not be cause, but then again, other factors could have arisen in the officers mind that lead him to find probable cause. Also there could be a consent issue involved. I would never allow an officer to search my car absent a warrant or arrest. This search would be challenged at a Motion to Suppress hearing and for that I would recommend you retain strong local counsel.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 10/18/2011
    John Segelbaum, P.S.
    John Segelbaum, P.S. | John Segelbaum
    No. The police need a search warrant or probable cause to believe there are drugs in the vehicle in order to search. They can't just search it because of someone's prior record.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 10/18/2011
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