Common Errors by Georgetown, Texas Police When Stopping a Vehicle
This is the next post in our series discussing how search and seizure laws impact drug-related cases in the Georgetown, Texas area. Our last post discussed the situations in which a police officer will be allowed to frisk a suspect. This post will discuss errors frequently made by police when seizing drugs from a defendant’s vehicle. Such police errors can lead to evidence being excluded from Court and to cases possibly being dismissed.
Georgetown police officers are not permitted to search a vehicle unless there is probable cause or the driver consents
Georgetown, Texas police officers cannot automatically search your car when they stop you for an offense such as speeding or failing to use a turn signal. This is because such a violation deals with city ordinances are not considered criminal matters. In other words, breaking a simple traffic law does not mean that a potential crime is taking place. This is why law enforcement officers cannot use a traffic stop as a reason to search a vehicle. The search of a vehicle will be lawful if evidence is present which gives the police officer “reasonable suspicion” of a crime or the vehicle owner must provide consent to a search. Reasonable suspicion often means the officer observing the scene inside of the car and looking for signs of drug use, such as the driver displaying red eyes or slurred speech.
Vehicle searches have been hotly debated by the Courts in recent years. Prosecutors often defend a warrantless search by citing the “emergency doctrine.” This would allow police to search open areas of a vehicle if the officer has reason to believe his safety is in jeopardy. A police officer may also search a vehicle if illegal drugs or contraband are sitting out in the open and in the officer’s view. However, it is generally crossing the line if an officer searches a closed container in a vehicle such as a suitcase, duffle bag, or purse. Whether or not evidence obtained from a warrantless search is admitted into Court or not often depends on the details of the officer’s report and the interpretation of the law by the presiding Judge. The question regarding who is right and who is wrong is not always clear cut but many situations at least allow a defense attorney to make a strong argument.
Williamson County residents should not provide voluntary consent for a vehicle search
If an officer knows that they do not have reasonable suspicion strong enough to justify a search then they may pressure a driver to provide consent. Under no circumstances is a driver obligated to voluntarily allow an officer to search their vehicle. An officer may attempt to convince the driver that providing a consent is in their best interest. Such is seldom true. If an officer asks if you consent to a vehicle search then it is usually best to politely decline. Avoid becoming argumentative and ask to contact your attorney if necessary. If an officer searches your vehicle after consent has been declined you may have a strong chance of filing a Motion to Suppress any evidence found against you.
If you are being charged with drug possession following a vehicle search contact our office today and schedule an initial consultation. Our attorneys are ready to assist you. In addition to Georgetown, we service the surrounding communities of Austin, Bartlett, Cedar Park, Florence, Granger, Hutto, Jarrell, Leander, Liberty Hill, Round Rock, Taylor, Thrall, and Weir.