Search Warrants in Missouri: Part Four. The automobile exception.

Motor vehicles are a huge exception to the warrant requirement, and–because of that fact–cars and trucks are treasured by police as rich sources of crime evidence.

People are seldom arrested for drug possession when they use it only at home or indoors.

Especially if they avoid carrying controlled substances around with them away from home.

But we like to get out. Have fun. See other folks.

In real life, people carry illegal drugs around in their pockets and in their cars. And that’s what keeps the police in the drug-war business.

If the police have probable cause to believe that contraband or evidence of a crime is in a motor vehicle they can search that car or truck in ANY PLACE such items could be found: consoles, briefcases, glove box, purse or trunk. It doesn’t matter if it’s locked or not. They can search for it and seize it without permission and without a warrant.

For example, a cop who smells marijuana at the open window of a car will probably have grounds to search it for marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

They can search the car immediately. Or they can impound the car and search it later. This is in addition to other allowed searches such as search incident to arrest, consensual and inventory searches.

Getting the evidence thrown out:

That’s my short, superficial review of search warrants and exceptions to the warrant requirement.

The key thing is that unless the police have a valid search warrant or can come under an exception, the search is unconstitutional. The importance to citizens is that evidence obtained in violation of the fourth amendment is not normally admissible in a criminal case.

One of the things a criminal attorney will do in any case is to determine if the evidence was illegally obtained. The attorney can challenge such evidence. If successful, the state’s case may be dismissed entirely.

This happens more often than people realize. Unfortunately, many defendants plead guilty to defective cases that should never have been filed to begin with. If you are charged, talk to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible and definitely before you go to court.