Oklahoma courts recognize that the home is sacred, and your home enjoys the highest level of privacy protection in a criminal investigation context. Usually, if you refuse to voluntarily allow a police officer to enter your home to search for evidence, that police officer must obtain a search warrant. The application for search warrant will set forth facts that establish probable cause to believe that certain evidence will be found in your home. If these facts and allegations amount to probable cause, a neutral Oklahoma magistrate judge will sign the search warrant. If the judge refuses to sign the warrant or if the police officer does not seek the signature of the judge, the search warrant is not valid. If the warrant is signed, the police officer can then knock on your door, announce himself, and enter even if you do not open the door for him.
However, cars do not enjoy the same level of privacy protection in Oklahoma. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that cars are exempt from the warrant requirement because they are readily mobile. Regardless, you still have some rights under the Fourth Amendment that may protect you from unreasonable searches and seizures. If a police officer searches your car without a warrant, any evidence he finds inside must be suppressed if the prosecutor cannot prove that:
- The seizure of evidence was justified by the plain view or consent doctrines
- The seizure was part of a Terry search for weapons, a regulated inventory search or a search incident to arrest
- The police officer had probable cause that they would find evidence in your car
The plain view doctrine states that if a police officer sees illegal contraband in plain view, even if the officer does not have permission or a warrant to search the vehicle, he can enter the vehicle to confiscate the contraband. Contraband can be a knife, gun, illegal narcotics or any other direct evidence of a crime.
The consent doctrine states that even if a police officer does not otherwise have a lawful right to search your car, he may do so anyway if you consent to a search. Tulsa Criminal defense attorneys advise their clients to always refuse searches.
Terry, a U.S. Supreme Court case, permits police officers to search the passenger-accessible areas of vehicles if and only if they have reasonable articulable suspicion that a passenger in the car is dangerous and may have access to a weapon in the car. This includes glove compartments, areas under seats, and seat back pockets. This generally does not include trunks unless the car is a hatchback with no separate trunk.
An inventory search occurs when a vehicle has been impounded, such as when it was towed due to parking in a no-parking zone. The car is then lawfully in police possession, and the police are permitted to search the car and inventory all of its items in order to keep a record in case the owner later alleges something went missing or was stolen. If the police find illegal contraband, the owner of the car can be prosecuted.
A search incident to arrest is a search conducted by an officer as part of the arrest process and can involve the suspect’s person, including pockets or purse, and the suspect’s car if the suspect is inside the car or standing by it. The search incident to arrest doctrine allows searches of a car only if the search occurs contemporaneously to the arrest. In addition, the officer is only permitted to search passenger-accessible areas of the car. These types of searches may only accompany a formal arrest. A traffic ticket does not qualify.
Finally, warrantless searches made via probable cause are classified under the automobile exception. The police officer must have objective facts that, when considered together, create probable cause to believe the car contains contraband. This type of search permits search of the trunk and containers in the car. However, if the police officer has probable cause to believe contraband exists in only one part of the car, such as the trunk, the officer cannot search the other parts of the car.
If a search is not conducted according to one of the above rules, the search violates the Fourth Amendment. All evidence found in the car must be suppressed from an Oklahoma trial when a Fourth Amendment violation has occurred.
Free Consultation; Tulsa Search Warrant Attorneys
If you’ve been charged with a crime in Oklahoma you need a free consultation with our criminal defense attorneys today. Many arrests are based on evidence that was obtained by the Police as the result of a search. Many of these same searches are illegal and may cost the state its whole case. Call now for your free consultation.