Criminal Defense Tips
4th Amendment Search and Seizure and Bail
Search and Seizure of CarsA car is not a home and thus is not treated the same under the protections afforded by the 4th Amendment. The requirement for a warrant applies differently to a home than it does to a car because of a vehicle's ease of mobility among other reasons. Additionally, the highly regulated nature of operating a vehicle tends to lessen the assumption of privacy for vehicle operators. Therefore do not operate or ride in a vehicle when it contains things which are illegal under federal or state law, as the contents of the vehicle may be searched without your permission under certain circumstances. In addition, be careful when transporting a firearm in a vehicle as the laws can be technical and it is illegal to have a "concealed" firearm without a permit.
WHEN CAN POLICE SEARCH MY VEHICLE?
Police will search your vehicle when they believe they have probable cause. Police may search the area of the vehicle which they have probable cause to believe contains contraband or other evidence of a crime. In many instances the police will claim that they smelled marijuana inside the vehicle and that probable cause exists in order to search that area and anything in it, sometimes this includes closed containers, purses, backpacks or other personal item.
In the Supreme Court case, California v. Acevedo, the court said, "While a police officer who has probable cause to believe a paper bag deposited in the trunk of a car contains marijuana may conduct a warrantless search of the trunk and the paper bag, the officer cannot then conduct a warrantless search of the passenger compartment of the car, unless he also has probable cause to believe the passenger compartment contains contraband." The 4th Circuit Court made the distinction this way. "Probable cause must be applied to specific compartments and containers within an automobile" (United States v. Carter). In other words, a warrantless search is allowed only in the precise vicinity of the vehicle that is under suspicion.
The best way to understand search law is to distinguish each area of the car as a separate area for search purposes. With that in mind, an officer must decide if probable cause applies before conducting a search of the area. In the state of Virginia, probable cause does not automatically apply to the entire car.
CAN THEY ALSO SEARCH MY TRUNK?
Evidence of a crime is often found in a car's trunk. Only evidence obtained properly under 4th amendment law is permissible in court. Before evidence found in the trunk can be admitted in court, the officer must establish that there was probable cause to search the trunk. (This topic applies only to evidence obtained prior to the suspect's arrest. The search of vehicles after an arrest is explained in a later paragraph.)
If an officer has probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is to be found inside the vehicle's trunk, then the trunk may legally searched. According to United States v. Lynn, police who smelled a strong chemical odor coming from the trunk of a car after properly finding drugs inside the vehicle's passenger compartment did indeed have probable cause to search the trunk for chemical contraband.
Defendant is Denied BailWHEN DEFENDANT IS DENIED BAIL:
In a situation in which you find yourself charged with a crime and held without bail, what will it take to convince the court that it is appropriate for a defendant to receive pretrial release?
As an example, take the case of James Alex Fields, who was denied bail as he was arraigned for second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding and one count of hit and run.
Heather Heyer, 32, died and 19 were injured when a car hit demonstrators in Charlottesville last Saturday. Mr. Fields is alleged to have committed these acts and is said to have harbored Nazi sympathies. He is from Ohio and has a reported history of prior violence against his own mother.
WHEN A MAGISTRATE DENIES A DEFENDANT BOND, a defendant has two more opportunities to secure a bond, first from the general district court and if that fails, then the circuit court in that jurisdiction.
Factors in play in the above example are as follows:
1. Seriousness of the charge: Murder is one of the most serious charges that the State can bring against a person. There are presumptions against bond in cases like murder per statute.
2. Is the person a flight risk and do they have a strong connection to the State in which they are charged?: In the case of Mr. Fields, he does not have a strong connection to either Charlottesville or the Commonwealth of Virginia because he came from Ohio to engage in this alleged behavior. In addition Mr. Fields would concern the court that he would not return for trial given that he lives many hours from Virginia.
3. Danger to the Community?: Does Mr. Fields pose a danger to others if released from custody before a trial? Many judges would agree that this person poses a danger to the community based on the alleged acts and the purported connection to white supremacist group or groups.
4. Counterbalancing facts: Strength of the case is a large factor when a judge makes a bail determination. So the question would be, HOW STRONG IS THE EVIDENCE? If the case is weak, and it can be demonstrated to the court then any person has a chance at receiving bail. In the case of Mr. Fields, there appears to be video evidence to support the allegations, and this does not bode well for Mr. Fields.