The scope of a police officer's search might not seem like something you should have to care very much about. However, in the criminal defense world, it can make all of the difference between being let go and being arrested and later convicted of a serious crime. Unfortunately, police know this, as well, and often stretch the scope of where they can search to look for evidence in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
A new case out of neighboring New Hampshire shows how this can happen.
How Police Can Stretch the Scope of Their Search
A New Hampshire police officer spotted a van on I-95 with a license plate that was registered to a different vehicle. This was a motor vehicle violation, so the officer put his lights on and pulled the van over. The van took awhile to pull to the side of the road – nearly an eighth of a mile – and the officer suspected that they were hiding something inside.
Inside the van were five people. The driver was an adult male, the passenger was an adult female, and the three in the back seat of the van were all children. One of the children needed a child's seat, but didn't have one.
When the officer talked to the driver, he found that the van had only recently been registered to the passenger. This did away with the motor vehicle violation. According to the police officer, the lack of a child's seat wasn't something they could immediately deal with, leaving the police with no reason to continue with the stop.
But the police kept asking questions.
Focusing on the fact that the driver seemed uncomfortable, the police officer and the officer who arrived as backup separated the driver and the passenger, found inconsistencies in their story, and asked to search the van. The driver refused until he was told that a canine unit had been requested to search the vehicle. He consented, and evidence of drug trafficking was found in the van.
Your Fourth Amendment Rights
Police need to have a reason to conduct a search. They can't just do one because they feel like it. That would violate your rights under the Fourth Amendment.
In this case, once the police had resolved the reason for the traffic stop, they had no other reason to do a search. Nevertheless, they did one, and it took the Supreme Court of New Hampshire to rectify the damage they'd done.
Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly
Police have one job: Find evidence of a crime. However, they often look past the fact that they need to comply with the rules of the Constitution while they're on the clock.
Criminal defense attorneys like William T. Bly are here to remind them. By fighting for your rights and interests in court, attorney Bly can make sure you get the defense you need. Contact his law office online or call him at (207) 571-8146.