When can police officers search a vehicle? When they are arresting the occupant of the vehicle. In 1981, the United States Supreme Court in the case of New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454, stated “when a policeman has made a lawful custodial arrest of the occupant of an automobile, he may as a contemporaneous incident of that arrest, search the passengers compartment of that automobile and any containers therein.” The court rendered this decision based upon a “generalization that articles inside the relatively narrow passenger compartment of an automobile are in fact generally within the area in to which an arrestee might reach in order to grab a weapon or evidentiary item.”  Fran Simmel v. California 395 U.S. 763.

In a decision of April 2009, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Arizona v. Grant narrowed the circumstances under which there can be a search incident to arrest. In the Grant decision the United States Supreme Court stated that police may now search a vehicle incident to the arrest of the occupant of the vehicle only if the person being arrested is “unsecured and within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search” or “it is reasonable to believe the (the passenger compartment) contains evidence of the arrest.”

The court stated in this decision “when the justifications are absent, a search of the arrestee’s vehicle will be unreasonable unless police obtain a warrant or show that another exception to the warrant requirement applies.”

In the a situation where the police arrest an individual driving a vehicle, place him custody, in hand cuffs and remove him from the vehicle and place him in the squad car there would be no reason for the police to engage in a warrantless search of the occupants vehicle unless a crime was committed involving contraband or a gun and police were searching for the contraband or gun.

Unfortunately this decision has not filtered down to most police organizations. Police routinely search vehicles when they put an occupant under arrest without justification. The prosecutors then seek to use any evidence obtained from said searches in the prosecution of the driver or other occupant of the vehicle. Based on this new United States Supreme Court decision, motions can be made to preclude the entry into evidence of material obtained through improper searches. If you or a friend or family member have been arrested and a vehicle was improperly searched feel free to give our office a call at 1-800-344-6431 or email us.

Many people feel that the traffic court system is designed to maximize municipal profits by discouraging ticket recipients from challenging those tickets.

Nowhere has this policy been made more official than in the Indianapolis traffic courtroom of Judge William Young, whose alleged conduct has brought a class action lawsuit upon him. The suit alleges that when this judge took office, he instituted a policy of levying a $500 fine against anyone who fights their ticket and loses. It further states that he instituted a policy of closing his courtroom to the public, thus shielding his activities from the public eye.

Some plaintiffs were individuals who had received tickets but chose not to challenge them because they asserted that Judge Young’s policy, of fining anyone who challenged their tickets, discouraged them from fighting, even though they thought they were innocent.

While not as egregious as the alleged policies of Judge Young in Indianapolis, recipients of tickets in New York have similarly themed complaints. Often, the structure of the legal system discourages all but a few from fighting even illegitimate tickets.

The court appearances which are required are so numerous and time-consuming that it is almost impossible to fight. Most people don’t understand how the system works and assume that the court date they are given on their ticket is the date when the ticket will be disposed of, either for better or worse. But this is not the reality.

In most localities, the first court date is merely for “arraignments.” This means that people are simply asked to plead either guilty or not guilty. Often, they are also lulled into feeling more comfortable conceding their case by pleading “guilty with an explanation.”  This allows the person to feel that they are at least getting to say something, while still saving the locality the trouble of having to prove guilt. This process can entail wasting several hours, taking off half a day, or wasting an entire evening in court.

If one perseveres and manages to plead “not guilty” on the first court date, he will have to come to court again, but not for an actual determination of guilt or innocence. Rather, he will usually come in for a “conference,” i.e. a meeting between the individual and a local prosecutor. If one makes it this far, most people end up making a plea deal with the prosecutor. So instead of paying, let’s say, $130 for a cell phone ticket+surcharge, you may end up paying only $110. Whoopee!

The prospect of this outcome alone is enough to encourage most people to cut their losses and plead guilty either at their first court appearance, or without even going to court. The time off from work or hours lost waiting in court are often not worth the $20-$30 saved by coming to a plea arrangement with the prosecutor.

For those brave souls who do not come to a plea deal with the prosecutor, there will be a third court appearance for the actual trial. And if you are lucky and the case isn’t adjourned to a fourth date for some reason, that will be your chance to disprove the locality’s case against you and either be found guilty or innocent.

The sheer investment of time and the time one may have to take off from work, depending on the time of the court dates, are enough to discourage most people from challenging their ticket.

For a person with multiple tickets or more serious charges like a misdemeanor or DWI, it is often worthwhile to hire an attorney, like those at our office, to represent him. If you need assistance with a traffic court, criminal, or any other kind of legal matter, you can contact the attorneys at The Law Office of Elliot Schlissel anytime, 24/7, at 800-344-6431, or by e-mail.

Picture courtesy of bizingo.com.

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