Vehicle Search and Seizure

If you have been pulled over by law enforcement in Texas on suspicion of a criminal offense, there comes a time when the officers may want to search and seize your vehicle. Although the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom from unreasonable search and seizures, it doesn’t exempt citizens from all searches and seizures. Vehicle search and seizure can be a traumatizing experience, but it doesn’t mean you are guilty or anything. 

If you or a loved one is a victim of an illegal search and seizure in Texas, our experienced criminal defense lawyers are ready to defend your rights from unreasonable search and seizure guaranteed by the constitution. This blog looks at the rules of search and seizure in Texas and the exceptions to the Fourth Amendment rights.

What Are the Rules of Vehicle Search and Seizure in Texas?

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in December 1791, disallows vehicle searches and seizures that are “unreasonable.” These rules apply both to federal and state law enforcement. Texas search and seizure laws are primarily based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The laws limit the power of police to search and seize people and their property, including motor vehicles. If the police overstep their lawful mandate, you can always file a motion to suppress the evidence. The court can apply the exclusionary rule meaning that the evidence found from the violation will be excluded from the court proceedings.

When Is a Search Valid in Texas?

In Texas, a search is only considered valid or reasonable if there is a valid search warrant. The search warrant, typically written and issued by a magistrate, directs the police to search a specific place or location in search of particular types of evidence.

A judge will only issue a warrant if they think there is probable cause to believe a crime was committed. When the law enforcement requests a search warrant, they must attach an affidavit that provides the details and circumstances creating probable cause. The affidavit must be signed and submitted under the oath of the magistrate. Here are the facts and events that make probable cause in an affidavit:

  • The specific crime that the law enforcement believe was committed by the defendant
  • An explanation of the reasons law enforcement believe the place and property to be searched forms a critical part of the evidence of an alleged crime
  • A statement that indicates critical pieces of evidence will be found at the place or property to be searched

Notably, a search warrant will be considered invalid if:

  • It fails to establish a probable cause
  • It is established that the law enforcement/ police officers are not truthful in their sworn affidavit.

When Is a Vehicle Search and Seizure Considered Unreasonable in Texas?

The Fourth Amendment specifies that a search done by police is unreasonable if:

  • The law enforcement conducts a search without a valid search warrant
  • The search doesn’t fall within the specified exceptions to the search warrant requirements.

What Are the Exceptions to a Search Warrant?

There are six specific exceptions to the requirement that the police or law enforcement officers must have a valid warrant to conduct a search. These include:

  • Where the evidence that was seized was “within plain view” of the arresting officer.
  • Where the evidence was obtained as part of a lawful arrest
  • If the suspect consented to the search
  • Where the law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion that a criminal act is ongoing or has been committed. However, the officer is required to provide the specific facts that lead to this conclusion. The officer is also required to only stop and frisk a suspect.
  • In a scenario where the evidence was obtained after “hot pursuit” of a suspect. The reasoning behind this is that the suspect may destroy the evidence if the officer has to wait for a warrant before conducting a search or seizing the evidence.
  • If the evidence is in a motor vehicle and the officer has probable cause to believe the car is carrying contraband, critical evidence, instruments, or proceeds of a criminal act.

Specific Examples of Reasonable Search and Seizures

As mentioned earlier, not every search request from the police is considered unreasonable or requires a warrant. The following are the typical examples of reasonable searches the police can perform:

  • Drugs or alcohol in plain view of officers can lead to a warrantless search and seizure of your car
  • If a smell of drugs or alcohol emanates from your vehicle 
  • if you are posing a threat to the public 
  • If a suspect flees from law enforcement officers and leaves possessions behind
  • If your vehicle has been impounded or is in the custody of law enforcement

Specific Examples of Unreasonable Search and Seize

Some common examples of unreasonable search and seizure in Texas include:

  • Police search your vehicle after a traffic stop for speeding
  • Police officers stop you on the street and go through your bag or purse without giving a reason
  • Officers stop you and search your pockets without giving any reason

If you believe you are a victim of unreasonable vehicle search and seizure in Texas, contact our criminal defense attorneys right away. Our highly experienced lawyers will find a basis to challenge the search and seizure and ensure it doesn’t form part of the evidence against you.

What Is the Exclusionary Rule?

The exclusionary rule refers to the penalty for illegal searches. If police stop your vehicle and seize evidence without a valid warrant or a warrant exception, such searches and seizures are considered unlawful. The exclusionary rule excludes the evidence found during illegal searches. 

What Happens After a Vehicle Search and Seizure?

If the law enforcement officers don’t find any evidence incriminating you from committing a crime, they will let you go. However, if the officers find something that indicates criminal activity, they will likely arrest you. If you are arrested during a search and seizure, contact our highly experienced criminal defense attorney and invoke your Miranda rights not to speak. Our lawyers are adept at attacking the validity of a traffic stop, search, or seizure. We are committed to defeating the traffic or criminal charges against you stemming from traffic search and seizure. 

Get the Help of a DWI Attorney with a Successful Track Record

At Stephen T Bowling, our DWI and criminal defense attorneys have years of experience dealing with arrest, search, and seizure cases. Contact us today for an initial non-obligatory consultation.

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816 Congress Ave, Suite 950
Austin, Texas 78701

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San Antonio, Texas 78205