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Zoey_ JD
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 23205
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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I was pulled over, the officer said my license is suspended

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I was pulled over, the officer said my license is suspended and he would ticket me and send me on my way, when asked if he could search my vehicle and my person I replied no. I was then cuffed searched, sat in the back of the cruiser and then my car was searched. Was this search legal?
Hello Jacustomer,

Maybe maybe not. Basically, he could have taken you in for driving on a suspended license, as it is a criminal offense, and most times police will arrest someone for it and either impound the car or let someone with a license pick you up. As he had the probable cause to arrest you, he could search you and the car incident to an arrest and it would have been proper.

He couldn't take the car apart piece by piece without a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement, but an inventory-type search would probably hold up in a suppression hearing.

That said, whether something is Constitutional or not is something that gets determined anew with each criminal case. The Supreme Court has said matters involving when the police have overstepped their authority in violation of someone's fundamental rights must be fully litigated at pre-trial suppression hearings. It is only after all of the evidence comes out at such a hearing does the court determine if the search was unconstitutional. The standard the judge must use to decide whether a violation occurred is what a reasonable police officer would have done under all of the facts and circumstances.

If your car was searched, and the officer came up with contraband, if you wanted to fight the charges your lawyer would move for a pre-trial hearing to explore the search and seizure issues as well as any other Consitutitonal violations the officer might have made. At such a hearing the police officer would be put on the stand and the prosecutor would ask questions designed to make the whole stop and search look as reasonable under the circumstances as possible. Then your lawyer on cross examination could probe and bring out all of the unreasonable facts related to your stop, search and seizure. At the end of the hearing, the judge decides for one side or the other. If for the state, the case goes on to trial. if for the defense, evidence may get suppressed which, depending upon what it is and the type of case involved, could result in a dismissal.

If on the other hand you were not arrested and you just feel that the police officer harraassed you without reason, you could complain to his supervisors, file a complaint as well with Internal Affairs and another with your state Attorney General's Office to get his harassing tactics investigated.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.
There was no contraband and no arrest. I do feel there were some bullying tactics because I refused the search. Though I spoke calmly and with respect to the officers, I was handled roughly and threatened with having my car impounded; even though I had validly licensed driver with me. Also I was unaware of the suspension, and had been pulled over a few months ago for forgetting to renew registration. I got a warning from that officer and renewed my registration with no hint of a suspension. According to this officer tonight, the suspension was in February, I got the warning in April.
Hi Eddie,

The good thing about this was that there was no arrest. The bad is, of course, that this limits how you can challenge this. You don't have a civil suit because you don't have monetary damages.

I'm not trying to tell you to forget about the whole thing. I'm not any more fond of police who use bullying and strong-arm tactics than you are. I'm just saying that the most you can hope to do is to trigger an investigation and make this officer at least as uncomfortable and inconvenienced as you were. You do that, as I indicated above, by reporting him for his bullying and harassment. Complaining to his supervisor may not be particularly effective, but you should do it anyway. But a report to Internal Affairs is taken very seriously, as would be a complaiint about his tactics to the State Attorney General. If nothing else it would put some closure to this incident and might make this officer think twice before flexing his muscles unnecessarily in the future.
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