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Can police search a vehicle just because the driver has a prior drug conviction?

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Utah constitution both protect people from unreasonable warrantless searches of their property or person.  In order to justify a search of of person's vehicle, the police officer will normally have to show probable cause or, at a minimum, a reasonable articulable suspicion of a crime.  Speaking with an experienced Utah criminal defense lawyer can help you determine whether a motion to suppress evidence may help your criminal case.

The fact that the driver of the vehicle has a prior drug conviction, by itself, will not be sufficient to satisfy the Fourth Amendment or Utah constitutional requirements.  Of course, if the police officer knows that the driver he has pulled over has a prior drug convictions, the officer may be much more thorough in his investigation, and may end up finding a reason to search the vehicle.

Suppose, for example, that a driver is pulled over for having expired registration.  The officer may legally impound the vehicle.  When a vehicle is impounded by police in Utah, normal procedures will require the officer to conduct an "inventory search" of the vehicle to determine its contents.  If, during the course of that inventory search, the police officer finds evidence of other criminal activity (e.g. drugs or drug paraphernalia), additional criminal charges may result.

If the driver of the vehicle has no prior criminal charges and a clean driving record, the officer may be more likely to let the driver go with either a warning or with a citation and instructions to contact the court.  If the officer knows that the driver has prior drug charges, the officer may be more inclined to use the traffic stop as an excuse to search the vehicle.

Most drug charges in Utah are felonies, but even a misdemeanor possession or paraphernalia charge can have serious consequences.  If you have been pulled over and police found evidence to charge you with a crime, you should talk to an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney to determine if a motion to suppress or other defense options will help your case.  Stephen Howard has handled literally thousands of serious felony charges during his career, and has a track record that speaks for itself.

Contact Salt Lake City defense attorney Stephen Howard to discuss your Utah criminal defense case today.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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