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Can police search your car without a warrant?

The police don't have a warrant to search your car. You're not even on their radar. However, they pull you over for allegedly rolling through a stop sign in Grand Rapids. When the officer starts talking to you, he decides to search your vehicle.

That search reveals a significant amount of drugs in the trunk of the car, and you get arrested on drug trafficking charges. While you don't dispute that you had the drugs in the car, your biggest issue with the whole thing is that the officers searched your vehicle without a warrant. Was that legal or did it violate your rights?

After all, evidence stemming from an illegal search typically can't go to court. Therefore, if they violated your rights with the search, no matter what they found in the car, they may not have any way to get a conviction.

A warrantless search

Naturally, the easiest way for police to legally search a home or a car is with a warrant. This means that they asked the court for permission based on the evidence they had and the court decided a search was justified.

However, doing that takes time -- time that officers don't have during a traffic stop. As such, there are four main ways that they can carry out a warrantless search. These are:

  • They already arrested you. The search of your car related to the arrest. This is often used in drug cases, but the key is that you need to have committed an action that warrants arrest first. Rolling through a stop sign is illegal, but you shouldn't get arrested for it.
  • The officer asked you for consent to search the car and you gave it to him or her. People sometimes do this mistakenly because they feel intimidated and they do not realize they have a right to deny the search request.
  • The officer feels threatened and thinks he has to do a search to protect himself. The most common reason they do this is if they think you have a hidden gun or some other weapon in the car.
  • The officer thinks you have criminal evidence in the car and can show probable cause for the search. However, they need a real reason to search the car. They can't stereotype you based on age or race, for instance, and assume that's reason enough for a search. That's not probable cause.

So, was that search illegal? Again, it can negate all evidence obtained during the illegal search, as officers had no right to find it. This can have a massive impact on your legal defense options. A knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you understand the law in Michigan and exactly what legal steps to take.

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