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Lawyer Explains: Can The Police Search My Car?

By April 29, 202111 Comments


Hello this is attorney Jeremy Hogan and welcome to Legal Briefs. Today is very important because we are going to talk about illegal search and seizure by the Po-po and specifically while you are driving – when you are pulled over can the police search your glove compartment – that type of thing.

But you are in for a special treat because I want to use my friend Jay-Z’s situation from his song 99 Problems to teach you about this issue so let me just shoot him a text and make sure we’re all good before we start.

Alright, he said go ahead – no problem.

The funny thing was I spent a long time trying to find video of JayZ getting made or saying crazy things and he never seems to get mad – he’s always super positive and uplifting. So I had to do the texting bit

.Which positivity comes across in his music because in 99 problems even when he’s getting pulled over by the police with drugs in his car he stays extremely positive.

But here’s the U.S. prohibition against illegal searches and seizures and it’s the 4ht Amendment:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized”.

So, let’s take a look at the 4th Amendment prohibition against illegal searches and seizure as applied to the situation in Jay-Z’s song and how the law applies.  Let’s begin at the beginning and here it is:

“The year’s ’94 and my trunk is raw
In my rearview mirror is the motherfucking law
I got two choices y’all, pull over the car or
Bounce on the devil, put the pedal to the floor
Now I ain’t trying to see no highway chase with Jake
Plus I got a few dollars I can fight the case”

So the verse starts with the protagonist driving with illegal drugs in the trunk of his car. He has to make a decision, to pull over or try and run.  In this case, he makes the correct decision.  If he runs from the cops and is caught, any search of the car will be lawful because he has given the cops reasonable suspicion of illegal activity – actually, just the running is illegal so the seizure will then be lawful and on top of that you have the added felony charges of Fleeing Police.  Good choice young man.  Also, in case you are wondering, a decent criminal  defense lawyer for something like this will cost you around $50k.

And we continue:

So I, pull over to the side of the road
I heard, “Son, do you know why I’m stopping you for?”
“Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low”
Do I look like a mind reader, sir? I don’t know
Am I under arrest or should I guess some more?

The Protagonist here handles the situation very well from a legal standpoint.  He says “I don’t know” why he’s being pulled over so he doesn’t admit to anything.  At this point he should’ve asked WHY he’s being pulled over but the question if he’s under arrest serves the same purpose.  The police must have articulable probable cause to pull you over – they must be able to tell you what law they believe you’ve violated.  If they can’t, then any search will be illegal as the stop itself is illegal.

“Well you was doing fifty-five in a fifty-four” (uh huh)
“License and registration and step out of the car”
“Are you carrying a weapon on you, I know a lot of you are”

So now we know that the protagonist has been racially profiled.  He was really pulled over because he looked a certain way.  You may be surprised to hear that although police departments and legislatures are slowly changing this practice it is NOT unconstitutional.  In fact, there is a case called Whren v. the United States in which the officers ADMITTED they followed a car and stopped the car when they finally saw the black driver commit a minor traffic infraction, and the US Supreme Court said that the MOTIVATIONS Of the Officers didn’t’ matter at all – as long as the officer witnessed the infraction occur – in other words, racial profiling is not Unconstitutional under the 4th amendment.

“I ain’t stepping out of shit, all my papers legit”

Be very very careful with this line it can get you in trouble. In most states, even for a traffic infraction, the police can force you to step out of your car.  This is contrary to many of the videos you might see on Youtube.  This is state specific so check your State’s laws or this could happen to you:

The lady in the video was eventually tazed, arrested and died later in jail.  So be careful when you are ordered out of your car – especially in Texas.

Back to the song:

“Well do you mind if I look around the car a little bit?”
Well my glove compartment is locked, so is the trunk in the back
And I know my rights so you goin’ need a warrant for that
“Aren’t you sharp as a tack? You some type of lawyer or something?”
“Somebody important or something?”
Well, I ain’t passed the bar, but I know a little bit
Enough that you won’t illegally search my shit

Cops are trained to ask consent because 95% of people consent to the search.  If you remember ONE thing from this video – please remember – DO NOT CONSENT. But, you might be thinking, I’m not a drug dealer.  No, maybe you aren’t but YOU HAVE NOTHING TO GAIN by consenting.  Is there an empty beer bottle under your seat you forgot about?  Did one of your wife’s Xanax slip out of her purse last weekend?  Point is, why take that chance? Nothing to gain – much to lose.  Just say “No, I do not consent.”

Now, the protagonist in the song rightfully says “no” so what can the police do?  First, They can look into his car for anything in plain sight.  And, if the officer can articulate a suspicion that the driver might be involved in criminal activity – even if JUST that the driver is in a high crime area – the cop can patdown the driver and EVEN do a search of the vicinity immediately around the driver – ostensibly searching for weapons.  So, the drugs in the trunk are safe from this kind of search but possibly NOT if the drugs were in the center console or even glove compartment.

BUT the protagonist is very wrong in one important respect in this verse. First, the fact that the trunk is locked is irrelevant for these purposes.  If the officer has any probable cause to believe that there are drugs in the car (let’s say they find the one missing Xanax pill of your wife’s) they can search the entire car – including the trunk – even if it’s locked.

The other fallacy here is that the Police will need a warrant to search his car.   The Supreme Court long ago held that you don’t need a warrant for a search of a car because well, because cars move and there’s not time to get warrants when it comes to mobile things – like cars.  So the police only need probable cause to search a car.

Let’s finish our verse:

“Well we’ll see how smart you are when the K-9 come”
I got ninety nine problems but a bitch ain’t one, hit me

So, now the protagonist knows he might be in trouble and he’s correct because the Courts have held that a sniff by a drug-sniffing dog is not a “search” under the 4th amendment so there doesn’t even have to be probable cause to bring the canines in.  But truthfully, he probably turned out okay because the police simply don’t have enough dogs to be bringing the k-9s to every traffic stop.

Which brings me to the last line which is a funny line because here Jay-Z could be using the “B” word to refer to a female but could also refer to the soon-arriving canine drug dog.

Which is why I love Jay-Z.

Love him in a masculine brotherly – Rockafella way!

In any case, I hope you had a good time – I did. Remember, keep your enemies close and your drugs even closer, and if you ever get in trouble with the police for the love of God don’t consent, don’t talk, and call me!

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