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Were the police within their rights to search my vehicle?

On Behalf of | Aug 30, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

People who are arrested for any reason need to understand the path of their case. That includes the evidence that justified the arrest, how it was accrued, its relevance to the case, how to combat it being introduced in court and whether law enforcement violated a person’s rights when searching for it.

Alleging that the investigation was flawed may depend on court rulings when previous appeals have been made. Recently, a state appeals court decided on this very issue. It could open the door to fight various charges after an arrest.

State appeals court rules officers cannot automatically search a trunk

A California state appeals court decided that law enforcement officers went beyond the bounds of their authority when they searched a defendant’s car trunk and found a gun. The decision overturned a prior judge’s decision in the case after that judge let the gun be used as evidence.

Police stopped the defendant after conducting surveillance at a funeral where they expected gang members to be in attendance. Police said they saw the defendant with a juvenile who was on probation for other crimes and was familiar to law enforcement.

Officers claimed the youth was acting suspiciously, touching his waistband and walking with a stiff gait before he got in the defendant’s car. After the youth left, police searched the car.

Officers searched the interior of the vehicle and did not find anything illegal. They then searched the trunk, where they say they found a loaded gun.

Police arrested the man and he was charged with being a felon in illegal possession of a firearm. He pleaded no contest and was placed on probation.

The defendant later appealed, arguing that officers did not have sufficient evidence to go beyond a basic search of the vehicle’s interior. The appeals court ruled that the trunk should not have been subject to search based on the evidence police had at the time.

In general, law enforcement has an “automobile exemption” which can expand officers’ rights to search a motor vehicle even if they do not have a warrant. This differs from a normal private property search. They went beyond that right in this case.

While this case was connected to alleged gang activity and weapons, it can also apply to drugs and other items that might be in a trunk or area where law enforcement should not be allowed to search without just cause in the absence of a warrant. People confronted with this type of case where evidence was acquired in a questionable manner could explore that as part of their defense.

Know the available avenues for criminal defense

Being arrested can cause a seemingly endless list of challenges. From the possibility of jail time, fines, job loss and long-term repercussions, it is important to understand the options to formulate an effective criminal defense.