Under the 4th Amendment, the Constitution guarantees that an individual is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This is due to the fact that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy from government intrusion. But what is considered an unreasonable search? After the Supreme Court ruled that frisks of suspects for weapons by police officers were considered reasonable in Terry v. Ohio, what types of searches are unreasonable? Would a Terry frisk of a person’s car for weapons be considered unreasonable in the eyes of the law?
Michigan v. Long
In Michigan v. Long, the Supreme Court was faced with the question of whether police officers are allowed to employ a Terry frisk on a person’s car. In the facts of this case, David Long drove his car off the road and into a shallow ditch. After drawing the attention of the police, Long was questioned and observed to be acting strangely. While looking around the vehicle, the police noticed a large hunting knife on the floor of the vehicle. Using this as reasonable suspicion, police officers patted down Long and searched his vehicle for further weapons. Following the search, the police officers found a large amount of marijuana. At trial, Long attempted to exclude the evidence based on the argument that the search of the vehicle was unconstitutional. After considering the arguments and legal theories of the case, the Supreme Court ruled that the search of the vehicle was justified under a Terry search since the police officers had reasonable suspicion that Long had access to weapons.
Based off of Michigan v. Long, police officers are allowed to do a pat-down search of a suspect and/or a protective sweep of the suspect’s vehicle to search for any weapons. However, this search must be based on reasonable. To have reasonable suspicion, there must be articulable facts on the part of the police officer that show the suspect could be armed and dangerous. Additionally, this protective sweep of the vehicle is limited to areas where weapons could be hidden. In other words, if police officers believe that the suspect may be hiding a rocket launcher, the police officers can only search areas that are big enough to hide something of that size (the trunk, passenger compartment, etc.), but cannot look in areas where the rocket launcher could not fit (the glove compartment, center console, etc.).
If you or someone you know have been charged with a crime based off a Terry search of your car, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case and possibly get the evidence excluded. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.