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Police searches are one of the most confusing and complex areas of criminal law. According to the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, people are protected against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” But what does this really mean? And how does it apply to your car? Can you face criminal charges if a law enforcement officer searches your car and finds drugs—even though you did not give consent to the search?

In this blog, I’ll answer these questions and address other issues related to vehicle searches by police and drug charges in Michigan.

When Michigan Police Can Search Your Car

Michigan police are allowed to search your car for drugs if they have probable cause.

The following are scenarios where law enforcement may be allowed to search your car:

  • They have a valid search warrant that includes your vehicle and its contents.
  • You gave consent to allow law enforcement to search your vehicle.
  • They have reasonable cause to believe evidence of a crime will be found in your vehicle.
  • You have already been arrested and the search is related to your arrest, such as a search for illegal drugs after an arrest for drug use, possession, sales, etc.
  • Your vehicle has been towed and impounded for a reason other than being searched.

Warrantless searches are somewhat of a grey area in criminal law, specifically when it comes to motor vehicles. Courts typically give more freedom to law enforcement personnel performing vehicle searches under the “automobile exception” to general fourth amendment search and seizure requirements. Courts have found that people have a lower expectation of privacy when it comes to their motor vehicles as opposed to their homes. If a police officer observes what looks like drugs in the backseat of a car, for example, he or she may have probable cause to search the vehicle—without a warrant and without the owner’s consent.

How an Unreasonable Search May Affect Drug Charges

The Fourth Amendment protects people from arbitrary searches. If you were pulled over and a law enforcement officer found drugs in your vehicle because he or she performed an unreasonable search, you should not face criminal charges and the possibility of a conviction. The same applies if you were stopped unlawfully (if the arresting officer did not have a reason to pull you over in the first place).

Michigan police and law enforcement personnel across the U.S. must have probable cause to conduct searches. If they violate your Fourth Amendment rights in their determination to make an arrest or find evidence of a drug crime, this can be used to invalidate their case against you.

The evidence obtained in an unreasonable search should be deemed inadmissible in court. This means that, even if a police officer pulled a kilo of cocaine from the trunk of a suspect’s car, it could not be used against the suspect if it was obtained in violation of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights. The police officer must have had probable cause to stop the suspect and search the trunk of the car, in the form of a valid warrant and/or a reasonable suspicion that a crime had been committed.

You Need a Skilled Drug Crime Defense Attorney

If police searched your car and found drugs, this is not the end of your story. You have the right to seek legal counsel. Putting an experienced attorney in your corner is your best chance of avoiding a conviction and the serious penalties this can bring. As a drug crime defense attorney who has represented numerous clients in the face of drug charges since 2002, I know what to look for in search and seizure violations. I know how to assert my clients’ constitutional rights to help them avoid convictions for drug possession, sale, trafficking, and more.

To find out how my firm can assist you, call (248) 599-0054 today.