When the legality of a search is in question in a criminal case, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution will serve as the basis for resolving any debate. The Fourth Amendment states that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
While state and federal laws are often used for the purpose of convicting and punishing offenders, many search and seizure issues require courts to turn to other prior court rulings. While authorities are generally required to have a warrant in order to legally conduct a search of property, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement.
Attorney for Automobile Searches in Georgetown, TX
If you were arrested in Central Texas as the result of a search of your motor vehicle, it is in your best interest to quickly retain legal counsel. Law Office of Price & Wiggins, P.C. aggressively defends clients accused of traffic offenses in Belton, Taylor, Hutto, Round Rock, Georgetown, and many other surrounding areas of Bell County and Williamson County.
Georgetown criminal defense lawyer Michael J. Price will investigate the circumstances surrounding the search of your vehicle and can fight to have any evidence unlawfully obtained suppressed so prosecutors are unable to present it in court.
Call (512) 354-1880 today to have our attorney provide a complete evaluation of your case during a free initial consultation.
Texas Automobile Searches Information Center
- What is probable cause?
- When does exigency apply to motor vehicle searches?
- Are there limits on warrantless searches?
The automobile exception to the warrant requirement under the Fourth Amendment was established in Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925). The case concerned the search of a vehicle where the alleged offenders possessed 69 quarts of whiskey in violation of the National Prohibition Act (also known as the Volstead Act), which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.
Law enforcement suspected George Carroll and John Krio of bootleggers when they stopped their vehicle without a warrant. The case also concerned Section 6 of an Act supplemental to the Volstead Act, which provided that if any officer or agent or employee of the United States engaged in the enforcement of the National Prohibition Act or the amendment could search any private dwelling “without a warrant directing such search,” or “shall without a search warrant maliciously and without reasonable cause search any other building or property.”
The United States Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling upholding the warrantless search of the automobile, reasoning that there is a “difference between a search of a store, dwelling house or other structure in respect of which a proper official warrant readily may be obtained, and a search of a ship, motor boat, wagon or automobile, for contraband goods, where it is not practicable to secure a warrant because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought.”
The Court did, however, explain that there must be some basis for searching vehicle without a warrant. The Majority stated, “[i]t would be intolerable and unreasonable if a prohibition agent were authorized to stop every automobile on the chance of finding liquor and thus subject all persons lawfully using the highways to the inconvenience and indignity of such a search.”
So, the Court determined that a police officer or other law enforcement official must have probable cause for believing that a vehicle is carrying contraband or other illegal items. Thus, the Carroll Doctrine became a well-recognized exception to the warrant requirement.
Probable cause refers to facts or evidence that provides a reasonable basis for believing that a crime may have been committed and the accused was the person who committed it.
In United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1 (1977), the United States Supreme Court held that the warrant requirement extends to luggage removed from a vehicle. In Chadwick, law enforcement conducted a warrantless search of two men’s luggage that the government justified under the automobile exception. The search was conducted more than an hour after federal agents had gained exclusive control of the luggage and long after the alleged offenders were securely in custody. The Court stated that the search could not be viewed as incidental to the arrest or as justified by any other exigency.
The term exigent is defined as requiring immediate aid or action. Exigency is frequently how law enforcement justifies warrantless searches as exceptions to the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment, and such situations include the possibility of an alleged offender escaping or evidence being destroyed or removed.
In Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753 (1979), a police officer in Little Rock, Arkansas had received word from an informant that a person would be arriving at the local airport and carrying a green suitcase containing marijuana. Police officers stopped a taxi the alleged offender was a passenger in and, without asking the permission of either the alleged offender or a man he was traveling with, opened the unlocked suitcase to discover 9.3 pounds of marijuana packaged in 10 plastic bags.
The Supreme Court declined in Chadwick to extend the Carroll Doctrine to all searches of luggage, noting that neither of the two policies supporting warrantless searches of automobiles applies to luggage. Like Chadwick, the officers involved in Arkansas had seized luggage and had it exclusively within their control at the time of the search.
“Consequently, ‘there was not the slightest danger that [the luggage] or its contents could have been removed before a valid search warrant could be obtained,'” the Court wrote. “And, as we observed in that case, luggage is a common repository for one’s personal effects, and therefore is inevitably associated with the expectation of privacy.”
One very common claim involved in warrantless searches of motor vehicles is the alleged scent of marijuana in an automobile.
It is important for warrantless searches to be based on evidence of evidence of related crimes, as a traffic stop for an offense such as speeding or failure to signal does not necessarily justify a warrantless search.
In Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009), Rodney Gant, was arrested for driving on a suspended license. Subsequent to his arrest officers searched his car and found cocaine in a jacket pocket. The Court noted that law enforcement was not authorized to conduct a vehicle search incident to arrest after the arrestee has been secured and cannot access the interior of the vehicle.
Moreover, there was no reason, based in probable cause, to believe that evidence of the crime for which the offender was arrested for could be found in the vehicle.
Find an Automobile Searches Defense Lawyer in Georgetown, TX
Were you arrested as the result of a search of your motor vehicle in Central Texas? You should avoid making a statement to authorities until you have legal representation.
Michael J. Price is an experienced criminal defense attorney in Georgetown who represents individuals in communities throughout Williamson County and Bell County, including Cedar Park, Leander, Harker Heights, Killeen, Temple, and many others.
You can have our lawyer review your case and discuss all of your legal options as soon as you call (512) 354-1880 or submit an online contact form to take advantage of a free, confidential consultation.