McHenry County Criminal Defense AttorneyDuring routine traffic stops in Illinois, police frequently search vehicles for reasons unrelated to the alleged traffic violation. Any illegal drug or weapons found in the car can lead to an arrest. The quality of police-civilian interactions in such situations often deteriorates quickly and leaves the driver no opportunity to stop and think about their rights. But once the search is over and the illegal substances have been found, it may seem too late to change anything. 

But is it legal for a routine traffic stop to turn into a search leading to the discovery of drugs, weapons, or other illegal substances? Can illegal material found in such a search be used against you in court? Fortunately, the United States Constitution addresses these complex topics, and with the help of an experienced McHenry criminal defense attorney, you may be able to fight the charges against you. 

Fourth Amendment Protections

The text of the U.S. Constitution has several amendments protecting the rights of American citizens. One of the most important amendments is the Fourth Amendment, which states that the government – including all government actors, such as police – cannot violate a citizens’ right to security in their person, home, or belongings by performing an “unreasonable search and seizure.” 

This is a complex way of stating a simple idea: Without an appropriate warrant based on probable cause, citizens and their belongings cannot be searched. This simple premise is complicated by several factors, however. When it was written, there was no such thing as a car, which can move around easily and make a warrant impractical if there is an urgent need for a search. United States courts have had to handle many cases of warrantless vehicle searches to determine when police officers can search a car without a warrant. 

Probable Cause

The concept of “probable cause” allows police officers to search a vehicle without a warrant – but not for no reason at all. A police officer must have probable cause to believe that the vehicle is involved in illegal behavior, and a hunch or suspicion is not enough. Several different things could be considered probable cause, including: 

  • An officer looks into the car and sees something that is or looks illegal

  • An officer smells an illegal drug, like marijuana

  • A person is arrested for a DUI and the car is towed and impounded

However, it is very important to remember that even without these factors present, if a driver consents to a search, a police officer does not need probable cause or a warrant. You can decline a search at any time. Although this may not stop the search from happening, if there turns out to be no probable cause, the search may be deemed illegal in later court proceedings. 

Speak with a McHenry County Criminal Defense Lawyer

Unexpectedly becoming the target of a vehicle search can feel frightening and unreal. If you believe you were arrested because of an illegal car search, get the help of a skilled Crystal Lake, IL criminal defense attorney. At Botto Gilbert Lancaster, PC, we will take your case seriously and do whatever we can to make sure your rights are protected from illegal behavior by law enforcement. Call us today at 815-338-3838 to schedule a free initial consultation.



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