You are driving home after a night out. In a moment, you find yourself responding to the orders of a police officer. You show him your registration, allow him to glance around with his flashlight, even step out. Then he asks that you pop the trunk. You may be wondering if the police officer has the right to ask you to do this and whether you have the right to say no. Well, the answer is: it depends.
The Fourth Amendment Protects Us from Unreasonable Search & Seizure
The Fourth Amendment protects you from arbitrary search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment and warrantless searches have been the subject of many Supreme Court rulings. If the officer has reasonable suspicion, they can usually search the area. This is simply a supposition that is supported by evidence. An officer could search based on your actions, your physical appearance, or the physical look of your car.
As an illustration, you may have been stopped for irregular driving. However, it’s possible that a stench emanating from the automobile or your own slower reflexes might have given you away if you were under the influence of drink or a narcotic. On the grounds that you may be using and perhaps carrying an illegal drug, the officer would have probable cause to search your vehicle from the glove box to the trunk.
Search & Seizure of Cars
The “plain view” requirement and the police’s authority to inspect passengers’ personal things discovered in a car have come up in several cases concerning the search of cars. The court ruled in Chimel v. California that police might search an individual and any spot under a person’s control or reach.
Search & Seizure of the Trunk of a Car
In the situation of a trunk, the same logic might be used. It would be under the driver’s control and, barring an extraordinary scenario, within reach. Typically, a trunk hides its contents. Therefore, if there is a possibility that the item being sought could be in the trunk, an officer may check there.
No Warrant is Required to Search a Car
Due to their mobility, autos are typically exempt from the advance warrant requirement, which is another argument made by law enforcement. They are now authorized to search automobiles without a warrant thanks to this.
In most cases, an officer just needs to fulfill the probable cause requirement. This is a really simple process. It is significantly more difficult to establish that an officer lacked probable cause, and it has only occasionally been successful. Most of those cases featured some form of racial profiling, a lack of consent, or a minor exemption in favor of the public—traffic offenses.
The Supreme Court held in Knowles v. Iowa that police cannot search a driver or passengers after ticketing them for routine traffic violations. In its decision, the Court said that a traffic violation is not an “arrest.”
You would not be in the custody of police officers since they do not have the authority to search you. In this instance, the probable cause defense is likewise weak. An officer does not have the right to search you or your vehicle just because they gave you a ticket for turning right on a red light. No additional criminal action is necessarily related to traffic offences. This nullifies whatever “reasonable suspicion” the officer could have had.
It was a modest victory for individual liberties. It’s interesting to note that Fourth Amendment issues routinely come up on the court’s agenda, and more exceptions are always available. It is usually wise to leave nothing in your trunk that you wouldn’t want a police officer to view in the interim.