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Arizona Appellate Court Upholds Search Based on Defendant’s Consent to Search Car

Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, citizens are guaranteed the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Over the years since the passage of the Fourth Amendment, courts have interpreted this to mean that police are generally required to obtain a warrant that is supported by probable caused before they can search a person, car or home.

Of course, there are exceptions to this general requirement. For example, if a police officer has probable cause to arrest a defendant for the commission of an Arizona crime, the officer is allowed to perform a search incident to that arrest. Similarly, if a police officer is in hot pursuit of a defendant who is believed to have committed a serious crime, the officer may not need a warrant to enter a home or vehicle.

One of the most common exceptions to the warrant requirement is when the officer obtains consent to search from the defendant. However, in order for an officer to conduct a search based on a defendant’s consent, that consent must be valid and not coerced. A recent case discusses consent, and how courts determine if it is valid.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the defendant was pulled over by police for not having a properly illuminated license plate. During the stop, the defendant informed the police officer that his license was suspended. The officer asked the defendant to accompany him to his patrol car, where the officer issued the defendant a citation. During this interaction, the police officer asked the defendant if he had anything illegal in his car. The defendant replied that he did not, and was issued the citation.

As the defendant was walking back to his car, the police asked the defendant if he could search his vehicle. The defendant gave permission and, ultimately, the police officer discovered narcotics in the defendant’s car. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the drugs, arguing that the search was illegal because the officer detained him longer than necessary to conduct the traffic stop and that consent to search was given after the stop should have ended.

The Court’s Analysis

The court began its analysis by noting that, after a traffic stop had concluded, an officer must let a motorist go on their way unless any future encounter is consensual or based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Here, it was agreed that the traffic stop had concluded when the officer asked the defendant to search his car. It was also agreed that the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Thus, the stop could only be upheld if the interactions were consensual.

The court concluded that the encounter was consensual and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress. The court explained that, at the time the officer inquired about searching the defendant’s car, the defendant had been given his license and registration back. The court acknowledged that the fact that the defendant was not told he was free to leave supported his argument that he was still subject to the officer’s control, however, the court determined that factor alone was not dispositive. Thus, when considering all of the surrounding circumstances, the court concluded that the defendant’s consent to search the vehicle was validly given.

Have You Been Arrested?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona crime, contact attorney James E. Novak to discuss your case. Attorney Novak is a well-respected Arizona criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing clients who have been charged with serious Arizona crimes. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Award Winning Blog:

Arizona Court Concludes Defendant’s Statement Made During Border-Crossing Stop Was Not Suppressible, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, December 19, 2018

Arizona Court Determines That a Filing Cabinet Is a “Nonresidential Structure” in Recent Burglary Case, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, January 14, 2019

Can Arizona Police Stop Someone for Looking Suspicious?, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, January 28, 2019