A law enforcement officer arrested Maurice Vaughn a few years ago and charged him with felony gun possession. The problem was that the office obtained evidence by impounding and searching the car without probable cause. Because a federal judge ruled that the officer violated Vaughn’s Fourth Amendment right, the evidence became inadmissible in court. Vaughn was free to go.
However, he had already spent more than a year in prison and lost his job as a result. Had he known his constitutional rights, he may have been able to find a way to prevent the conviction.
When can an officer search your car?
The Fourth Amendment protects people in the United States against unreasonable search and seizure. A law enforcement officer may only search a vehicle, which is considered private property, under these circumstances:
- The vehicle owner gave their consent
- The illicit items were in plain view
- The law enforcement officer has a search warrant
- The law enforcement officer has probable cause
An officer only has probable cause if they suspect something illegal is going on or that anyone in the vehicle committed a crime, meaning they would need a valid reason to conduct the search. Their suspicion must be reasonable and justifiable. Otherwise, they should ask for permission, and you can say no. If they still search the car and find illegal items, they obtain these illegally, and the prosecution cannot use these in court.
Why do officers conduct illegal searches and seizures?
Police misconduct is rampant in Tennessee because of their proactive attempt to catch and arrest people for drug and gun possession. The officers often forget about their constitutional limitations when making an arrest.
Civilians should know their rights so that they know when to challenge an arrest before a conviction. It is everyone’s right to defend themselves against constitutional rights violations.