The Fourth Amendment restricts when a police officer may stop a person. Generally, an officer must have probable cause to believe that the person has committed a crime in order to stop them. When police officers conduct a traffic stop, there is no question that they are allowed detain the driver. But what happens if one of the passengers of the vehicle wants to leave in the middle of the stop?
It is not unusual for law enforcement officers to turn a traffic stop into a full blown search and seizure of the vehicle that has been stopped. How is this accomplished? First, many times the officers, who have made what seems to be a routine traffic stop, know they will find contraband in the vehicle. The traffic stop is used as an excuse to get inside the vehicle, without the police having to reveal the source of their information that the car is carrying. After issuing a traffic citation, a "casual" request to search the vehicle is made. If consent is declined, the officers call back-up to bring a drug sniffing dog. If the dog alerts to the presence of contraband, the vehicle is searched based upon that alert and no one, including the driver ever knows the actual reason for the search.
On March 30, 2015, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Grady v. North Carolina, 2015 WL 1400850 (2015). In Grady, the defendant was convicted of a sex offense with a child. After serving his sentence, he was designated as a recidivist sex offender and a hearing was held to determine whether he should be subject to satellite-based monitoring (SBM). The defendant argued that the monitoring would violate his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Nonetheless, the trial court ordered the defendant to wear an ankle bracelet and be monitored for the rest of his life.
We are frequently asked how to respond when a police officer asks for consent to search your vehicle. Our emphatic response is "Just Say No!" By consenting to the search of your vehicle, you forfeit your right to challenge the search of your vehicle, and anything found within it can be used against you if you are charged with a crime. In order to search your vehicle the police officer must have probable cause to search it, or exigent circumstances must exist to do so. Police cannot search your car just because you have been arrested. If an officer thinks he or she has the right to search your vehicle, there is no reason to request your consent. Asking to search your vehicle is an implicit admission that the officer does not have cause to do so.
Many people mistakenly believe that if a police officer smells marijuana coming from their vehicle, it's game over and time to plead guilty.