Traffic stops are an important way for law enforcement agencies to fight crime. Think about it: if a police officer is able to pull over a motorist, he or she has the opportunity not only to question occupants of the vehicle about criminal activity, but to scan the inside of the vehicle for signs of criminal activity.
For this reason, officers can and do pull over motorists for even minor infractions, knowing that they may have the opportunity to find evidence of a more significant crime. A good example of this is a case earlier this month in Anne Arundel County in which police pulled over a drier who was headed the wrong way in his lane. The case ended up turning into a drug bust when police found a bag of cocaine.
The case is nothing special in itself, but it is a reminder that traffic stops can end up being about a lot more than the initial reason for the stop. From the standpoint of effective law enforcement, this is naturally a good and necessary thing, but from the standpoint of criminal defense, there is always the concern that officers will step over the line and fail to respect the privacy rights of motorists.
We’ve previously spoken on this blog about the issue of privacy in DUI investigations and the rights motorists have during those situations. Here we want to focus on the issue of vehicle searches. It is important for motorists to understand some of the basic rules police are bound by when conducting vehicle searches. In our next post, we’ll hit the high points of this issue.