Dignity, Respect
& Justice

The importance of valid reasonable suspicion to search a vehicle

On Behalf of | May 27, 2022 | Traffic Violations |

Maryland police officers have a significant amount of power when conducting a traffic stop. What begins as a routine request for drivers licenses, insurance proof, and vehicle registration can quickly become a search when an officer suspects there is criminal activity occurring. Every Maryland driver has an understanding of what suspicion entails with respect to law enforcement, but “reasonable” is a loose term that often gives officers excessive latitude in arrest processes. And, when police use questionable reasoning to proceed to search a vehicle for probable cause, the case can be dismissed in certain situations.

Defining reasonable suspicion

There are specific claims that Maryland police can use to request searching a vehicle. This is typically the first step as opposed to contacting a judge for a warrant. In a criminal defense application, the “reasonable” concept refers to what a reasonably prudent individual would think in any given situation. Certain observations like bloodshot eyes or the odor of any intoxicant are standard examples of what the court considers reasonable and suspicious.

Inefficient reasonable suspicion

Most request to search a vehicle are directed at opening the trunk or the glove compartment of the vehicle. Officers do automatically have the power to use the “plain sight” rule as reasonable suspicion when searching passenger areas. When drivers and passengers are not observably intoxicated and no contraband is found, typically the officer still does not have reasonable suspicion. Hunches of criminal activity based on appearance of those being questioned or any racial profiling consideration is also not reasonable, and any evidence this is part of the advance to search for probable cause can be used in a criminal defense strategy.

It is important to remember that each criminal case is unique in some aspect, including reasonable suspicion level. Always be aware when being stopped on the highway that police do not have carte blanche to search without it.