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Ordinarily the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures by police. For such searches and seizures to be valid, law enforcement must either first obtain a search warrant or the search must qualify under a recognized exception to what is known as the "exclusionary rule," which holds that evidence illegally obtained cannot be used against a defendant in a legal proceeding. Some of these exceptions involve automobiles under the general "automobile exception" -- which also includes specific "plain view" and "plain smell" exceptions.

A recent news story from New York City illustrates how some of these exceptions to the exclusionary rule can work. A police officer pulled over a vehicle because it had what appered to be illegally tinted windows. When interacting with the driver, however, the officer noted an odor of marijuana smoke in the car, which in turn triggered application of the automobile exception. This exception allows a warrantless search of a vehicle for spaces and items that may contain drugs, and during the search the officer discovered a lock box disguised as a bible that contained a pistol and ammunition. As the search continued a knife and an open container of alcohol were also found.

The driver and two passengers of the car were arrested for weapons possession and possession of marijuana.

The best way to avoid the application of the automobile exception to the exclusionary rule is to not carry illegal items in your vehicle. But if you are charged with drug possession or other crimes based on a search of your car in connection with a traffic stop, your next best line of defense is to retain the services of a New York City traffic attorney with experience in defending drug cases.

Source: ABC News, "Cops: Loaded Gun Found in Hollowed-out Box Resembling Bible," August 13, 2015 

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