What to Do When Police in Maryland Performed a Warrantless Search of a Car that You Were Driving, But that Belonged to Someone Else

Police many times strive to create situations in which they can conduct a search of your vehicle in order to obtain additional evidence… and possibly additional charges. The problem for the police is that they cannot search just anyone’s car. They need either to have a search warrant for that car or they need to have probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. A great deal of evidence is often unearthed through the execution of warrantless searches and, a lot of times, those searches are the result of insufficient probable cause. When that happens, you need the right Maryland criminal defense attorney on your side to get that evidence suppressed at trial.

O.W. was someone caught in a warrantless search scenario like that. In early 2019, Anne Arundel County police sought to arrest him on an open arrest warrant. The police apprehended the man at a Glen Burnie car wash. After the police took the man into custody, they searched the vehicle he drove to the car wash. The police found a handgun lying on the seat underneath a jacket. That gun led the police to add an additional weapons charge against O.W.

O.W. faced several complications in seeking to get the gun evidence excluded from his case. For one thing, the car wasn’t legally his, a fact that the state pointed out in its argument against suppression of the gun evidence. O.W.’s girlfriend had leased the vehicle and the lease had expired the day before the police apprehended the man.

That potentially worked against O.W. because, in order to get evidence suppressed, you first have to have a legal right to contest what the police did. (This legal right to contest is called “standing.”) The rules of standing say that you often cannot complain about an unconstitutional search conducted by the police if the property that the police searched belonged to someone else.

A ‘reasonable expectation of privacy,’ even if you didn’t own the vehicle

This man’s situation, however, was different. He was the sole occupant and driver of the car when the police stopped him. O.W.’s girlfriend was the vehicle’s lessee and she had loaned it to him. Under situations like that, you have what the law calls a “reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle.” That means that you have a legal right to object when the police conduct a search that violates the Fourth Amendment, even though you were not the legal owner of the property being searched.

The more relevant facts you can give the court that weigh against the permissibility of that search, the stronger your case for suppression will be. In O.W.’s case, the alleged crime that triggered the arrest warrant occurred “10 miles away and 18 days earlier” and the arrest warrant did not authorize a search of the girlfriend’s car. Additionally, O.W. was standing 10 feet away from the car and behind “a small wall” when the police initiated their search of the vehicle.

All of those facts favored the accused’s argument that the search was a violation of the Fourth Amendment and that the evidence was not admissible against him. Had the accused robbed a bank two miles away six hours earlier and stood two feet from the car when the police decided to search, the outcome might have been different. However, all of these facts related to proximity (both of time and location) in O.W.’s case pointed toward the search being unconstitutional.

If you’ve been arrested due to a questionable search police performed without a warrant, you may know that something wrong has happened, but you may still not know what to do. You may not know how to argue about standing or why the police discovery of the evidence wasn’t inevitable or what the correct standard for probable cause is. That’s why you need skillful legal representation from the knowledge Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. Our attorneys have been helping the accused in Maryland for many years and are ready to get to work for you. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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