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Vehicle Searches in Connecticut

Traffic infractions are among the most common infractions committed by citizens in the State of Connecticut and elsewhere the country. Relatedly, citizens frequently run into issues with the law as a consequence of evidence obtained in the course of a traffic stop. The typical scenario involves the following facts: a motorist is stopped for a legitimate traffic violation – speeding, failing to yield, etc. – and then, for a variety of reasons, a police officer recovers a piece of incriminating evidence in the motorist’s vehicle. This incriminating evidence then leads to a more serious criminal charge, such as drug possession or illegal possession of a firearm. 

Police Need a Lawful Basis for the Initial Stop

Because this scenario is so common, the permissibility of vehicle searches after a traffic stop is among the most researched legal issue by laypeople. In this post, we will discuss some of the basic issues involved with motor vehicle searches in Connecticut.

Some people mistakenly believe that police can simply initiate a traffic stop whenever they wish, without having a legitimate basis for the stop. The truth, however, is that police must have a lawful reason to initiate a traffic stop. The basis of this fact stems from the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Court rulings have extended the reach of this amendment to include traffic stops. This means that police cannot simply pull your car over without a good reason. 

In most cases, police will only initiate a stop if they have clear evidence of a traffic violation, such as a reading of your speed (while speeding), confirmation of expired tags, and so forth. Importantly, if police initiate a stop without a lawful basis, then any evidence found during a search will typically be inadmissible at trial.

Police Need Independent Probable Case for a Search

Even if police have lawful basis to conduct a stop, this doesn’t necessarily grant them authority to conduct a search of your vehicle. Contrary to what some may suppose, police need independent probable cause to search your vehicle. This means that they need an articulable reason to believe that evidence of criminal activity may exist within your vehicle. Probable cause is a context-dependent concept which may be present depending on the particular facts of a given case. However, there are certain facts which have been shown to support a determination of probable cause in most cases. For instance, if an officer smells illegal drugs, or sees drugs, these things will typically give probable cause for a search.

New Law Prohibits Police from Requesting Consent

Importantly, police in Connecticut can no longer bypass the probable cause requirement for a search. Effective October 1, 2020, a new “police accountability” law holds that police officers cannot request consent to search a vehicle in the absence of probable cause. Previously, before this law, officers would often simply request a motorist for permission to search a vehicle; if a motorist gave consent, this was typically sufficient to warrant a search. However, the new accountability law prohibits officers from making such requests. But, if a motorist gives consent in an unsolicited manner, this voluntary consent will still suffice. 

Contact the Apex Law Firm for More Info

As with nearly every area, the specific facts of every case are needed to produce a definitive response, but the best basic rule to follow is to never, under any circumstances, give consent to police to search your car. If you would like more information, or need counsel on a given case, contact Apex Law Firm today by calling 860-900-0900.