There is a certain amount of privacy that we as a society and individuals agree to give up when we get in a motor vehicle and drive on public roadways.
For example, Florida statute has an implied consent law that indicates if a DUI suspect is stopped with reasonable suspicion and refuses to submit to a breathalyzer test to determine his or her blood-alcohol level, he or she will face an automatic one-year license suspension.
Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers also know that the courts have ruled that our motor vehicles, in general, are not entitled to the same level of privacy as our homes or persons. An officer with probable cause to believe contraband is located within can search a motor vehicle without a warrant.
However, this does not give officers free reign – though you wouldn’t be able to tell based on recent videos that have surfaced out of Texas.
Two dash camera videos taken from two separate highway patrol cruisers in different areas of the state contain disturbing footage. In both cases, a female driver and a female passenger are stopped for minor offenses (one for allegedly littering a cigarette butt and the other for speeding) and subsequently both subjected to full cavity searches – on the side of the road – to look for drugs.
The videos are rightfully sparking outrage among the public, and civil lawsuits have been filed. One case was recently settled for $185,000.
One trooper was fired and investigated for alleged sexual assault, though a grand jury refused to indict her and she was recently reinstated to her post.
The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety noted that in that incident, a more senior trooper instructed a relatively inexperienced trooper to conduct an “inappropriate” search.
In both instances, the troopers reportedly used the same pair of gloves to search both women.
Aside from the fact that these full cavity searches were humiliatingly conducted in full view of passing traffic and that they would have been illegal even if officers had strong suspicion that these women possessed drugs, there was no indication whatsoever that either victim was under the influence of drugs. Yet the video shows deputies pressing over and over again for the location of the drugs.
In the end, no drugs were found, either in the vehicle or in the women searched. There had never been any reasonable suspicion or probable cause to suspect the women possessed illegal narcotics.
Florida Statute 901.211 holds that no person arrested for a traffic, regulatory or misdemeanor offense may be strip searched unless:
–There is probable cause to believe that the individual is concealing a weapon, controlled substance or stolen property;
–A judge at a first appearance has found that the person can’t be released either on their own recognizance or bond and must be sent to county jail.
Even when strip searches are conducted, they are to be done by an officer and observer of the same gender, in sanitary conditions and with the express, written approval of an on-duty supervisor.
You do still have the right to decline any search, and you should make your desire to refuse a search very clear. That doesn’t necessarily mean that an officer won’t conduct one. However, the officers won’t be able to later say in court that the search was voluntary, and therefore they didn’t need probable cause. It could end up significantly helping you later in court.
Searches that are conducted without following strict legal protocol will result in any evidence found thereafter being unusable in court.