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Probable Cause / Search and Seizure

by Dec 29, 2011DWI / DUI, Sam Edmunds

Even if you’ve never experienced it firsthand, you’ve probably seen this scenario play out in a movie: someone gets pulled over by a police officer, and a request is made for the driver to step out of the vehicle while the officer takes a look around the car.

You may think, “Wait a minute — isn’t that a violation of the Fourth Amendment?” The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure, and mandates that a warrant be in place prior to a search. The Minnesota Constitution (Article I, Section 10) aligns very closely with this amendment.

However, this isn’t as clear-cut as it may seem. Both the U.S. and Minnesota Supreme Courts uphold a whole slew of exceptions to the warrant rule, especially when there is “probable cause” to justify a search without a warrant.

So what’s probable cause? It’s a legal term to describe a scenario when a reasonable person can reasonably assume that a crime has been or is in the process of being committed. Assumption of a crime has to be weighed against the individual’s right to privacy.

Now you may be thinking, “Okay, so what’s reasonable? And what are examples of exceptions? And how can I make sure my rights are protected if I’m ever pulled over?” You’re smart to be asking these questions. That’s because there is a whole lot of gray area, and every case is different. That’s why it’s so important to seek the advice of an experienced attorney who can listen to the details of your case and fight for the best possible outcome for you.

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