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Michigan Criminal Law Blog

Three Things You Need to Know about the Fourth Amendment

ConstitutionThe Fourth Amendment and the entire Bill of Rights is in place to protect you from law enforcement and other government entities. This specific amendment ensures law enforcement cannot search you or your personal property, or seize any personal property from you, without a just cause.

In addition to your body and your home, Fourth Amendment protections apply to your vehicle most of the time. If you are pulled over by a police officer and that police officer wants to search the car you are driving, he or she needs a warrant or to prove very specific circumstances were in place to make that search legal. Without legal cause to search a vehicle, it’s likely the evidence recovered in the search will be barred from being used against you and it’s possible the case against you will suffer.

An experienced attorney should evaluate the details of a traffic stop and vehicle search to determine if it was performed illegally. If there is any doubt it was legal, that information can be used to build a strong defense in your favor.

What should you know about the Fourth Amendment and the Protection It Guarantees You While Driving?

1. Search Warrants aren’t Always Necessary When It Comes to Vehicle Searches

Most people are familiar with the basics of a search warrant. If police arrive at your house without a search warrant and want to look around, an attorney would recommend you refuse and ask for them to come back with a warrant

When it comes to motor vehicles, the guidelines are a bit less stringent.

It can be legal for a police officer to conduct a warrantless search because vehicles are mobile and it is accepted vehicle owners have less of an expectation of privacy than homeowners.

2. Probable Cause IS Still Needed for a Vehicle Search

Of course, it’s not legal for law enforcement to search your vehicle based on nothing more than a gut feeling or instinct of a law being broken. Even without needing a search warrant law enforcement is not free to just do as it pleases.

The specific exceptions that allow a warrantless search include:

  • Incidental searches that occur at the same time as an arrest
  • Owner-consented searches – you give the officers permission to search
  • Searches in which the “plain view” doctrine applies, which means contraband can be seen without having to search
  • Searches in which law enforcement has reason to believe evidence of a crime would likely disappear or be destroyed if they allow the driver to leave without a search

It can be difficult to prove that officers didn’t have a reason to search your vehicle at the time of an OWI arrest, but it’s possible. Law enforcement officers are given a great deal of leeway when it comes to determining if a search of a vehicle is necessary because there is a risk. The courts tend to err on the side of public safety when it comes to drunk driving, which could hurt your case overall.

Essentially, if it can be proven you were driving under the influence, it’s going to be difficult to show a warrantless search wasn’t legal – but it’s not impossible.

To learn more about what makes vehicle stops related to OWI without probable cause legal, check out this information from NOLO.com.

3. A Violation of Your Fourth Amendment Rights Works in Your Favor When Defending Against OWI Charges

Working with an attorney who understands OWI laws and how the Fourth Amendment applies to your case is essential.

Successfully showing a search – or the initial traffic stop – was not based on probable cause can mean the difference between having the charges against you dropped and spending time in jail.

For more information or to speak to someone about a drunk driving arrest, contact Andrew W. Kowalkowski, PLLC at 248.974.9594.

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