Can I See What’s In Your Trunk?: Consent Searches in Miami-Dade County

Many times a person is pulled over on what the police call a routine traffic stop and end up finding weapons, drugs, or other contraband.  However, if the police did not have probable cause to search the vehicle, or another valid reason to search the vehicle, experienced Miami criminal defense attorneys can move to have all of the evidence excluded from trial after filing a motion to suppress evidence.

DUI Defense AttorneyThe Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives people the protection from having their persons, homes, papers, vehicles, and other possessions searched without a warrant, probable cause, a reasonable suspicion (in some cases), or another legally-valid reason to conduct the search.  If an officer witnesses a traffic infraction, which may constitute the suspected violation of a traffic ordinance, the officer has a right to stop the vehicle. At this point, the officer has a right to run the suspect’s license plate to find out if the car is reported stolen, and to see who the owner of the vehicle is.  The officer can also request proof of insurance, registration, and the driver’s license of the operator of the motor vehicle. At this point, the officer has a right to look around the passenger compartment of the vehicle to see if there is any contraband in plain sight, but the officer cannot open any closed containers like the glove compartment, armrest containers, or the trunk without probable cause, unless the officer already has grounds to place the suspect under arrest for a criminal traffic violation or other crime.

As our Miami criminal defense attorneys can explain, some traffic offenses, such as driving under the influence (DUI) are also a criminal offenses and once probable cause is established, the officer can place the suspect under arrest and tow the vehicle. If the officer has probable cause to arrest a suspect, he or she can perform a search of the entire contents of the vehicle, which is known as a search incident to arrest (SIA).  A search incident to arrest is lawful and anything discovered during that search incident to arrest is likely to be admissible in court.

However, there are limits to this and one example would be the contents of a defendant’s cell phone.  The officer can obtain the cell phone, but probably could not go onto the phone and look at the call record or any other data without first obtaining a separate search warrant. This is because there is no exigent need to search the data on the phone in most cases and there is time to get a warrant once the phone is secured.

One thing officers will typically do if they want to search the trunk or the rest of the passenger compartment, including the glove container, is to ask if there is anything the officer should know about.  If you say yes, they would have probable cause, and if you say no, the officer will often ask if they can take a look for themselves.  If you give them permission to go ahead and look, they are allow to do so because you have consented to the search.  You are perfectly free to say no they cannot search the vehicle, and this is probably the smart thing to do in most cases.

According to a recent news story from the Miami Herald, a court ordered the dismissal of all charges and the return of a suspect’s property as the body camera footage shows the officer instructing the suspect to “pop the trunk” and then called this a consent search. During this search, they found weapons, money, marijuana, and what police claim was a prescription narcotic.  However, since they lacked probable cause to search the trunk, and did not obtain proper consent, the suspect was protected by his Fourth Amendment rights and everything found during the illegal search and seizure was deemed the fruit of a poisonous tree and thus inadmissible in court. For this reason, all property was ordered to be returned following dismissal of the charges including nearly $20,000 in cash, and there was also an agreement by police to pay defendant’s attorneys fees in the amount of approximately $3,000.

Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

‘We got bills to pay, sweetie.’ Cops forced to return stripper’s $19,934 in cash, July 6, 2018, By David Ovalle, Miami Herald

More Blog Entries:

Florida Drug Crime Reform: Lawmakers Seek Greater Judicial Discretion, March 5, 2018, Broward DUI Defense Lawyer Blog

Justia Lawyer Rating for Richard Ansara