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Did police have probable cause to search your car?

Any Arizona motorist who has ever been pulled over by police knows how distressing such situations can be. One minute, you're driving along, perhaps after enjoying a nice evening out with some friends, and the next thing you know there are red and blue lights flashing in your rear-view mirror. Sometimes, simply finding a spot on the roadside to safely pull over and stop is enough to cause anxiety.

What happens next may amount to a minor inconvenience that resolves itself in minutes or a serious situation that negatively affects your life for weeks, months or years to come. If a police officer approaches your vehicle, what he or she says and does, as well as how you respond may significantly impact your circumstances.

Know your rights

It's difficult to recognize a violation of your personal rights if you're not familiar with those rights in the first place. The bottom line is that law enforcement officers do not have free rein when it comes to search and seizure and/or the arrest process. Therefore, if an officer asks you to step out of your car, paying close attention to all that transpires may help in building a strong defense should you later be arrested and charged with a crime.

The Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution protect you in several ways during traffic stops or any other detainment or investigations by police. The latter ensures you never have to provide information or act in any way so as to possibly incriminate yourself, while the former secures your right to privacy and protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Act within your rights

A police officer who pulls you over in traffic (or approaches you in a parked car or while you're standing outside your vehicle, etc.) must have probable cause (meaning, some type of knowledge or fact that raises suspicion against you as having possibly committed a crime) before he or she goes rummaging through your vehicle or personal belongings. For instance, if you have a gun laying in plain view inside your car, an approaching officer may use that as probable cause to conduct a search of your vehicle without a warrant.

Circumstantial evidence is also often sufficient as probable cause, such as if the officer claims your vehicle had been swerving left and right within your lane of traffic before he or she pulled you over. In that case, you may be suspected of drunk driving and asked to take field sobriety tests or a Breathalyzer or other chemical test. You can refuse, but may incur automatic penalties because of implied consent.

Protect your rights

It's often quite difficult for the average person with no official background in criminal defense law to recognize a personal rights violation when it occurs. For this and several other reasons, many Arizona motorists choose to act alongside experienced defense guidance when traffic stops result in criminal charges of some sort. Part of due process includes your right to retain legal representation to act as your personal advocate in court.

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Ramos Law Firm | 14500 N. Northsight Blvd, Suite 229 | Scottsdale, AZ 85260 | Phone: (480) 247-8558 | Map & Directions