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Court Discusses New York Automobile Exception to the Search Warrant Requirement

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case discussing the automobile exception to the search warrant requirement. Generally, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant that is supported by probable cause before they can conduct a search. However, over the years, courts have crafted a variety of exceptions to the warrant requirement. One of the most often cited exceptions is the automobile exception.

The automobile exception came about based on the understanding that vehicles are mobile. Thus, if police officers were required to obtain a warrant to search a car, there would be a risk that the officers would not be able to locate the car again, or that any evidence inside the car could be hidden or destroyed. Thus, if an officer has probable cause to believe that there may be evidence or contraband inside a vehicle, the officer can search the vehicle without a warrant.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers witnessed the defendant give a carton of cigarettes to another man in exchange for money. The officers approached the defendant, who was standing near the open door of a van. As the officers got closer to the van, they could see that it was full of duffle bags and that one of the bags contained additional cartons of cigarettes. One of the officers then opened one of the packs in the carton that the defendant had just exchanged, noticing that there was no New York tax stamp. Officers arrested the defendant. Before driving the defendant’s car back to the station, one of the officers conducted a “quick check” of the vehicle, finding a firearm under the passenger seat.

The defendant argued that the officer’s “quick check” of his vehicle amounted to a search, and that the search was in violation of the New York warrant requirement. The court rejected the defendant’s argument, however, noting that the search was justified under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.

The court noted that, under previous case law, “a warrantless search of a vehicle is permitted when the police have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband, a weapon, or evidence of a crime.” Here, the court explained that the police officers had probable cause to believe that the defendant’s vehicle contained evidence of a crime because he had just been arrested for selling unstamped cigarettes.

Have You Been Arrested after Police Searched Your Car?

If you have recently been arrested after police searched your vehicle, contact the New York criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At our firm, we have extensive experience handling all types of possessory offenses, including New York gun cases, and are up-to-date on all current developments in state and federal search and seizure laws. While the automobile exception may justify some searches, there are limits on when police can rely on the exception, and the extent of the search that is permitted. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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