You partied a little too hard, so you were driving extra slowly on your way home. Unfortunately, a police officer spotted you and pulled you over, citing improper lane usage. After taking your license, the officer asked you to step out of the car. Suddenly, he began questioning you about illegal drugs and searching your car. At this point, he turned up a little cocaine you had stashed in the trunk, and you are now on your way to police lock up.
Can the officer do that? What are your rights?
Generally, police can search your entire car without a warrant as long as they have probable cause to believe your car contains evidence of criminal activity. Police can even open small containers. Be advised that making “furtive”movements may be enough to trigger that probable cause, especially if you look like you’re trying to get rid of that package or simply hide it.
Unfortunately, recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have chipped away at the rights of drivers to guard against police searches. The Supreme Court under Chief Justice Roberts recently held that you do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in contraband. For example, police are now allowed to have a trained dog sniff your car for narcotics without your consent because you have no privacy right in possessing illegal substances.
Furthermore, under new Supreme Court law, police do not need a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to question you about topics unrelated to your DUI as long as this questioning does not unduly prolong the time you are stopped. Before this decision, police could not change the fundamental nature of a traffic stop by questioning you on unrelated matters without this reasonable suspicion, but this protection was overturned. In other words, if you were stopped for drunk driving, the officer could not question you about burglary tools or weapons unless he or she had a reasonable suspicion that you might be involved in some other criminal activity.
If you are stopped by police, an officer should, but may not always, ask if he or she can search your car. If asked, you should always refuse any request to search. The officer may continue the search even without your consent. Your refusal, however, may later help your attorney suppress the evidence turned up by the search.
You should also refrain from speaking to the police or answering any questions except about your name and address. It is generally advisable to refuse any breath tests or field sobriety tests, although the Secretary of State will penalize you for this refusal by suspending your driver’s license for an extended time. The absence of the tests, however, may make it harder for the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were driving under the influence. (See related post “CAN I DRIVE?”: GETTING RID OF YOUR ILLINOIS SECRETARY OF STATE MANDATORY SUSPENSION.)
If you have questions about this or another criminal law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or firstname.lastname@example.org