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Crystal Lake illegal search defense attorneyIt is not uncommon to hear or read about a person who was arrested for drug possession or a similar crime after being stopped by police for a traffic violation. Situations such as these lead to an extremely important question: How does a traffic stop transform into a search that leads to the discovery of illegal drugs, guns, or other contraband? The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution addresses the rights of citizens regarding searches and seizures. However, the way in which the courts have interpreted the Fourth Amendment over the years has created a deal of confusion for many people.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment promises that the government—which means the police, by extension—shall not violate “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” It goes on to state, “No Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause,” and that a warrant must describe where the search is to take place, as well as the items or individuals that are expected to be seized.

Of course, when the Fourth Amendment was written in 1789, the automobile was still over 100 years away from being invented. As such, our founding fathers could not have foreseen such mobility for the average citizen. Because cars and trucks are so mobile, the warrant requirement is not exactly very conducive to the efforts of law enforcement, which is why courts around the country have had to review cases of warrantless searches to set precedents that must be followed by law enforcement officers.

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Can the Police Search My Car Anytime They Want?In recent years, there has been a great deal of public debate about the power and authority given to police officers in various situations. Among these concerns is the issue of conducting a search for illicit drugs, unlawful weapons, or other illegal items. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution promises American citizens the right to be free from “unreasonable searches and seizures” of their homes, papers, effects, and persons. The same amendment also specifies that all warrants must be based on probable cause and must describe in detail “the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.” If you are facing charges based on evidence found during an illegal or unreasonable search, an experienced criminal defense attorney could get the case against you dismissed.

Consent Trumps Everything Else

Most people will never have the police come to their house wanting to conduct a search. It is much more common, however, for such a situation to develop during a traffic stop. If you have been stopped by the police and the officer wants to search your vehicle, he or she will almost certainly start by asking for your permission. If the officer obtains your clear consent, the search becomes lawful, and you will no longer have the option of challenging the evidence based on an unreasonable search.

Keep in mind that the officer might not use the word “search” or even ask for your consent in a clear manner. He or she might say something to the effect of, “I’m sure you don’t mind if I take a quick look around, right?” As a citizen, you always have the right to refuse to consent when an officer asks to search your car. Refusing will not always prevent the search, but you will retain the ability to challenge the validity of the search later.

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Marijuana Odor Enough to Permit Vehicle SearchA couple of years ago, Illinois changed its Cannabis Control Act to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Possessing less than 10 grams of marijuana is a civil law violation, punishable by a fine of $100 to $200. The change decreases the number of people who may face misdemeanor drug possession charges for what is a minor offense. However, decriminalization is not the same as legalization, a fact that recently prevented an Illinois defendant from suppressing evidence in a criminal case.

Recent Case

In People v. Rice, the defendant was charged, convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison for possession of a controlled substance. A police officer had stopped the defendant’s vehicle for speeding and decided to conduct a search because he smelt burnt cannabis. During the search, police allegedly found:

  • A small bag containing marijuana on the defendant;
  • Two sealed envelopes containing $37,000 in the vehicle; and
  • A box that contained 1,300 methamphetamine pills.

Probable Cause

The defendant argued that the evidence from the police search should be suppressed because the scent of marijuana did not give the officer probable cause to conduct a search. He cited the change to Illinois law that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling. Massachusetts voters had passed a referendum that decriminalized the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. The Massachusetts court determined that the scent of marijuana was no longer enough evidence of criminal activity to conduct a search because the amount that the suspect possesses may not be a criminal offense.

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dui, Crystal Lake Criminal Defense Lawyer, search. traffic stop, mchenry county attorney, law firmIf you get pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) in Crystal Lake, you will need the help of a DUI defense attorney. However, in the moment of the traffic stop, it is important to remember several things to prevent making a mistake or saying something that can be used against you later on.

Police Officers are Under a Lot of Stress

When they start making a traffic stop, police officers do not have a full understanding of what is going on. During training, police officers frequently hear harrowing statistics about fatalities during routine stops; 62 officers were killed during traffic stops between 2003 and 2012. It is important to remember that no matter how frustrated you are when you get pulled over, the police officer coming to your driver's side window does not know if you are waiting with a weapon. Making it exceptionally clear that you have no intention of hurting anyone is important. Keeping your hands on the wheel, in plain view, and not making any sudden moves can go a long way in putting the police officer at ease, which can make the whole situation much less intense.

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Posted on in Vehicle Searches

police search primer, McHenry County criminal defense attorneyThe police in America often appear to wield an unchallengeable authority. However, the law in fact places numerous constraints on the police to protect the rights of citizens accused of crimes. One of the most important of these constraints comes from the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from “unreasonable” searches by police. This means that there are limits to the ability of the police to look through a person's things. The full extent of the rules on when police may search are complex, but a short primer can help people more fully exercise their rights. The general rule is that police must have a warrant to perform a search, but there are important exceptions to this rule.

The Need for Warrants

The key point of the Fourth Amendment is that police must have a warrant to in order to perform a search. A warrant is a legal document provided by a judge that gives the police a right to enter a specific place in order to look for a specific item. In order to get a warrant, the police must demonstrate that there is “probable cause” to believe that a search will turn up evidence of a crime. If the officers can convince a judge of that, then they will receive a warrant, and they can search the premises.

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