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Traffic stops and an unlawful search of the vehicle

Being pulled over by a police officer is not an enjoyable experience; however, it is one that most North Carolina motorists experience at least once in their lifetime. While a traffic stop could result in a warning or a minor speeding ticket, they could also evolve into a much larger situation. If police officers suspect that something illegal might be going on, they might seek to search your vehicle. Depending on what officers uncover, a simple traffic stop could turn into a drug charge.

When a vehicle search occurs, drivers should note that these are not always permitted. Of course, if a driver gives permission, a search can commence, but if no such permission was granted, officers must follow protocol. This means that the police officer must have a valid reason to search the vehicle. Something must have occurred to give the officer reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

Maybe the officer observed a driver hide or throw an object. Or if the officer sees a driver hunch down in their seat, making it look like they are hiding something, a search might be validated. A final situation that could result in a vehicle search relates to the plain view doctrine. If an officer observes drug paraphernalia, an open alcohol container or other suspicious items in the vehicle, this could commence a vehicle search. No matter what an officer observes, there must be probable cause that the driver or a passenger is involved in a criminal activity in order to initiate a vehicle search.

However, if probable cause does not exist or a search was conducted without your permission or a search warrant, it is possible to challenge the evidence collected during the search. A defendant could seek to exclude this evidence as it will be deemed tainted or the fruits of the poisonous tree. And by suppressing this evidence, a defendant could have the charges against them reduced or even dropped.

Source:, "Traffic Stops," accessed Nov. 5, 2017

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