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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 30365
Experience:  Criminal Justice Degree, JD with Criminal Law Concentration. Worked for the DA and U.S. Attorney.
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In the middle of the night, officers conducting a presence patrol supposedly noticed a veh

Customer Question

In the middle of the night, officers conducting a presence patrol supposedly noticed a vehicle in a neighborhood with its interior lights on. They found nothing and looked into the vehicle parked beside it. They shined their flashlights through the tinted windows and noticed a holstered pistol on the floorboard that protruded from under the driver seat. The vehicle doors and windows were closed but the doors were not locked. After running the tags and calling the owner, who was deep asleep with his/her phone on silent, the officers made a final attempt to locate the owner of the vehicle. An officer entered the vehicle door and located documentation containing contact information for both the owner and the owners significant other with whom the owner was spending the night. This information led them to a nearby apartment leased by the owners significant other. After pounding on the door and scaring the heck out of them both. The officers brought the owner outside and suggested that he
Submitted: 6 years ago via Nolo Press.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 years ago.

My name is Lucy and I'd be happy to answer your questions today.

It looks like the end of your question got cut off. Can you take a look and finish it for me?
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Hey Lucy,

I have no idea if you are receiving my replies or not. The website isn't posting them anywhere that I see. Could you let me know if you are getting them, and I'm just not noticing it?
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
I entered a repy and clicked, "reply to expert." However, I didn't see my reply posted anywhere. .... The officers asked me to come outside and suggested that, in the future, I should bring my firearm inside or lock the vehicle door. They said, "whatever you like to do though," and then they left. They said there had been a string of vehicle break-ins, and what they did was a courtesy. Can officers legally enter my vehicle and search under these circumstances? If not, do I have any legal standing to sue for a violation of the fourth amendment?
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 years ago.

I apologize - I got the reply asking if I got the reply, and the one after, but nothing before that. I'm not sure what happened.

If the police are in a place where they are lawfully allowed to be, they're allowed to look around. It's OK to use a flashlight to help them look in areas that would ordinarily be visible to the naked eye. Police are allowed to search a vehicle under the "automobile exception," where they have reason to believe there is contraband or evidence of a crime inside. Seeing a weapon on the front seat is sufficient to establish probable cause. There is case law that states that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement applies even where the vehicle is unattended. See U.S. v. Markham, 844 F.2d 366 (6th Cir. 1988). Unfortunately, that means that, if there is contraband or a dangerous weapon in plain view in the vehicle, the police would be able to open it and search the vehicle.