During encounters with the public, police officers are frequently looking for signs of criminal activity. They may ask questions in the hope that someone will implicate themselves or conduct searches to look for evidence that connects someone to a crime.
Sometimes, the request to search will seem like a non-issue. You probably assume that a police officer going through your vehicle during a traffic stop won’t find anything because you know that you didn’t break the law and have nothing inappropriate in your vehicle.
Unfortunately, what you don’t know can hurt you when it comes to a law enforcement search of your vehicle.
If anyone else has been in your car, you don’t know what’s in there
If you bought a used vehicle, drive carpool for your high school son’s hockey team or sometimes drive your co-workers out of state for regional meetings, you don’t actually know what might be in your vehicle.
If anyone else has been inside your car, whether they were a passenger or a professional helping to detail clean the vehicle, they could have left something behind in your vehicle. Pocket knives that violate state law or baggies full of prohibited drugs could slip out of someone’s pocket, purse or duffle bag while they are in your vehicle.
If you cross paths with police officers with that person in your car, they may have hidden something in your vehicle intentionally and then forgot that they took something out of their pocket and shoved it in the crevice where the bottom cushion meets the backrest. You won’t know what’s there until police find it later, and at that point, they may try to arrest you and charge you with a crime.
Police will have to establish constructive possession
If a police officer finds you with drugs in your pocket or your purse, they can easily show that the drugs were in your possession and under your control. There are extra steps involved in this process if they find something in your home or vehicle but not in your immediate possession.
Generally, they will need to establish constructive possession, which means they have to prove that you knew the items were there and that you had control over them. If you can raise a reasonable doubt about that, you may be able to defend against those charges.
Knowing your rights and how the police build a case against you can help you better manage a traffic stop and avoid drug charges.