Police Searches in Prince William County

If you were victimized by illegal police searches in Prince William County, then you need to consider working with a legal representative. Experienced defense counsel could remind the court that officers have an obligation to respect the rights of people they search and that an illegal search makes evidence obtained inadmissible. Contact an attorney today to begin your legal defense and preserve your future.

Refusing a Vehicle Search in Prince William County

There are no situations in which someone is legally required to consent to a search of their vehicle, but there are situations in which the police have a right to search their car without consent. People are able to refuse to consent to the search of their car at any time. That does not mean that officers do not have the legal authority to continue searching or that they would not conduct a search. People should not give officers consent to search their car just because the police are going to search the car. That is one of the number one mistakes people make.

There are many cases in which police search a car when they do not really have the legal authority to do so, or they gain legal authority to do so rather just because someone gives them consent, thinking that the officers already have the authority and that they are going to search the car anyway. In a case where the police conduct a search of their car without the legal authority to do so, attorneys could build a strong defense from that illegal search. If criminal charges are filed, attorneys could file a Motion to Suppress with the court which excludes any evidence that was gained as a result of that illegal search.

One of the most common justifications for the officers conducting a search for the vehicle is that they obtained the consent of the owner. In any situation when the police ask to search a person’s car, that person should inform the officer that they do not have consent. Even when someone is certain they are going to search the car anyway, no consent should be offered. People should require officers to get that legal authority before searching a vehicle in almost every case.

That is not to say that people should do anything to physically prevent the police officer from searching their car. When officers conduct an illegal search, the proper, legal remedy is to have that evidence excluded from the trial. If the police inform them that they are going to search their car, people should not do anything to prevent them from conducting that search, but they should inform officers that they do not consent to any police searches in Prince William County.

Legal Ramifications of an Illegal Search

By not giving the police officer consent to search a car, people basically eliminate one of the main types of authority officers use to conduct a search. There are a number of different reasons a police officer might have the legal authority to search their car:

  • They have the warrant to search something
  • A car may be searched (as part of the impound process) because it had to be impounded
  • The car may be searched if there is probable cause to search the car at the side of the road
  • A car may be searched if the owner/driver gives consent

By withholding consent, people take out one of the major categories of legal authority to conduct a search which leaves police with few legal options to perform a search, like probable cause. When officers do not have probable cause to conduct a search but are granted consent, the search is conducted legally. If the police do not have probable cause to search a car, are not given consent to search, and conduct the search anyway, even if they found evidence against a suspect, that evidence could be suppressed in court and may not be used against the suspect in trial. The case against them might have to be dismissed because of the illegal search.

The Numerous Types of Searches

There are a number of distinctions between a search of a person’s home, a search of a person, and a search of a person’s home. The basic laws surrounding each is completely different and it is important to consider the type of search being dealt with in that particular situation. The distinction is what is actually being searched. With a personal search, an individual may get a pat-down search to check if they have any weapons, a search of their pockets, or a more thorough search after they are arrested.

In a situation where an officer has reasonable suspicion that there is some criminal activity or some danger to the public, a police officer may stop and pat someone down to ensure that there is no weapon or other dangerous elements. However, that pat-down search should not include reaching into pockets to see if they have marijuana or searching through their wallet. A search of a person when they are actually arrested is more intensive and it involves actually searching through their pockets to see exactly what they have.

A vehicle search is completely different and has a different standard. Police have a different standard to apply before stopping a vehicle, but in some ways a lower standard because there are so many traffic infractions for which they may stop a car. But, before a search may be conducted on the car, they actually have to develop probable cause. The level of evidence required before a search of a house is conducted is much higher because the search of a home, in most situations, requires having an actual warrant describing the probable cause or consent.

Dealing with a Search Warrant

There is a large difference between refusing to give consent for a search and refusing to cooperate with a search. If the police or other law enforcement authority has a warrant for a person’s arrest or a warrant to search that person’s home, interference could constitute obstruction of justice and almost always make the situation worse, even if it does not constitute an obstruction of justice. The best practice when dealing with officers conducting a search is to inform the officer that they do not consent to any type of search. However, they should never physically prevent a law enforcement officer from taking any action, even if they do not believe they are legally entitled. If someone believes the search is a violation of their constitutional rights, the proper thing to do is to inform the authorities that they do not have their consent to search and allow their attorney to later sort of through the legal ramifications of the search once their case is in court and set for trial.

Would an Officer Inform Someone of Their Right to Refuse a Search?

A law enforcement officer is under no obligation to inform people that they have the right to refuse any type of search. A conscientious and honest law enforcement officer may inform people of their rights, they may inform them of their right to refuse to consent to a search, but some officers may even mislead people into thinking they have to consent to a search or they do not have the right to object to something. Some officers may even tend to secure someone’s consent by lying to them or by trying to trick them into thinking it is in their best interest to consent to a search.

An officer does not need to be truthful about most things. An officer is not under any obligation to tell people the truth in most situations. If an officer does inform people that they have the right to refuse a search, then people should probably take that as a signal that the officer does not really want to conduct the search, and may even be looking for an excuse not to conduct it. The officer may want a person to simply say they do not have permission to conduct the search so that they do not have to conduct the search without consent.

Showing a Warrant

Before an officer is able to search an individual’s home without the owner’s consent, police would generally need to show a search warrant for the property. A search warrant should list the address and description of the property to be searched as well as the type of evidence that they are looking for in the property. Importantly, a search should always be accompanied by an affidavit. The affidavit would explain the evidence upon which the officers are relying as to why they believe that they have probable cause to search the property.

Work with a Seasoned Defense Attorney in Prince William County

Police searches in Prince William County have to follow legal standards set out by the law. While people expect officers to be honest when performing a search, there is little people could do in the moment to prevent an illegal search. However, when it comes to court, people have the right to retain a seasoned defense counsel who could file a motion to suppress for any evidence obtained from an illegal search.

If you feel your rights were not respected, reach out to an attorney who could help.