Is being pulled over for a seatbelt violation probable cause for an officer to search the vehicle?

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Is being pulled over for a seatbelt violation probable cause for an officer to search the vehicle?

I was pulled over on a seatbelt violation and found that I had a suspended license for child support. Once I was put in handcuffs and in the back of the police car having said noting, the officers search my vehicle inside a backpack they found a gram of marijuana and a weed pipe and a few Flexerils that belonged to my girlfriend who has a prescription. now I’m being charged with 2 misdemeanor possession charges for the gram of marijuana and pipe and 1 felony possession charge on the Flexeril. First did they have the right to search my vehicle when nothing was being smoked or used in any way during the time of pull over and second would it be worth the effort in going to trial?

Asked on February 28, 2017 under Criminal Law, Illinois

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

As a general rule, the police need a warrant to search you or your property. However, during a traffic stop, police only need "probable cause" in order to search your vehicle. Probable cause means that there must some facts or evidence for the police to believe that you are involved in criminal activity. In other words, an officer’s mere hunch absent other evidence of illegal activity is not enough for a legal search of your vehicle. Basically, the oficer must observe something real, for example, the smell of contraband or its being in "plain view" sight, in order to perform a search and make an arrest. If this was not the case in your situation, then you should direcrtly consult with a local criminal law attorney who can best advise you further.


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