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Can police look in your glove box?

Another part of your vehicle may be off limits from a police search. A recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit US Court of Appeals determined that a police officer can’t search the glove compartment to find information readily available elsewhere—such as registration.

Michael Curtis Painter was outside of his vehicle after a police chase and crash in Spokane, Washington. After his arrest, an officer opened the glove box in search of registration, finding a handgun inside. Painter isn’t allowed to carry a gun, leading to another criminal charge. The officer needed registration for the accident report, but the court ruled they could have got that information without searching the vehicle because the VIN number can be read from outside of the car and then looked up on a computer.

There are two important criminal defense matters in the story: gun rights and search and seizure.

Gun rights and convictions

This case takes place in Washington state, but we have similar rules here in Tennessee, where convicted felons can’t carry firearms. Regardless if you want a gun for hunting, sport or personal protection, you lose those rights after certain convictions. Felonies that are expunged, pardoned or involve less than one year of prison time don’t fall under this restriction, which is why criminal defense can influence not just your current situation, but also what happens later in life.

Illegal search and seizure

The US Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches. “Unreasonable” is a continually evolving definition as technology advances. In this case, the Ninth Circuit ruled that officers can easily get the information they needed (a vehicle’s registration) without opening the glove box. Thus, a search inside the vehicle was unnecessary and unconstitutional. The charges of resisting arrest still stand, but the additional gun charges were dismissed.

An experienced criminal defense attorney will review all aspects of your case, from probable cause and search and seizure to the arrest itself. Defense requires a strong knowledge of the law, not just to review your case, but also to determine the proper charges and to fight for your future rights.

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