I was pulled over the other day for speeding. The officer then proceeded to make me get out of my car and search it. Is that legal?
It depends. First of all, the laws that govern this behavior vary from state to state. However, each state's laws must comply with the 4th Amendment, which protects a person's right to be secure on his or her property.
Generally a search warrant must be issued before a person's car can be searched. The United States Supreme Court has recognized an exception to this right-the police may search the vehicle without a warrant where they have probable cause to believe that it holds contraband or evidence. Thus, if an officer pulls you over and has no probable cause for why he/she has chosen to search your vehicle, the search will probably be held illegal and thus the evidence probably won't be able to be used in court against you.
If the officer did have a probable cause then he was completely within his rights. For example, if the officer saw you throw an empty container out of your vehicle that may be probable cause enough to search the vehicle (since he/she may say they believed it to be an alcoholic beverage). If, however, the only infraction you are pulled over for is a minor traffic violation (something like speeding), you may have a legitimate cause of action against an officer for illegally searching your vehicle if you can show he did not have probable cause to do so.
Keep in mind that courts may side with the police if the officer can show any possible reason they could have considered a probable cause. In today's day and age officers may feel in many situations that they need to be overly cautious, so the level for reaching "probable cause" in certain situations may be satisfied more easily.
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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985.In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987.
Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It . ( Watch the Video ) and Winning Every Time: How to Use the Skills of a Lawyer in the Trials of Your Life
To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.