A traffic violation stop led to an arrest for possession of a loaded firearm, drugs, and one pipe bomb in West Los Angeles. The police later executed a warrant to search the home of the suspect, where the police found seventeen pipe bombs in all.
This situation resulted from a simple traffic violation. Typically, a suspect is questioned regarding the contents of the car, but a search requires either a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, probable cause, or the driver’s consent. This particular instance leaves many questions as to the chain of events leading from the traffic violation to the recovery of the weapon, pipe bomb, and drugs in the car to a search of the accused’s home based on a search warrant. Were the loaded firearm and pipe bomb in the open view of police stopping the vehicle? Did the police ask to search the vehicle on the suspicion that they would find something specific—such as the pipe bomb—or were they going on a speculative hunt?
In traffic stop situations, a suspect is asked to answer routine questions and to provide his or her license, current insurance, and DMV registration. In addition, police may make observations through the windows of any car. If their observations lead to a reasonable suspicion that the car or its passengers may be engaging in illegal activity (probable cause), then the police may search the interior of the vehicle and the people within it, including any passenger. The test for probably cause is higher than reasonable suspicion. For instance, if the police observe a weapon on the passenger seat or sticking out from under the driver’s seat, they would have probable cause to search the passenger compartment and trunk for any additional firearms. If the officer smells marijuana smoke, he would have probable cause to search the entire vehicle for more evidence of drugs.
Aside from reasonable suspicion and probable cause, however, the police may also search an entire vehicle if the driver gives his consent to the search. Here, the specifics of how the police searched the West Los Angeles driver’s car is unknown. After the arrest for possession of a loaded gun, a pipe bomb, and drugs, this suspect would have been questioned further – prior to the execution of a search warrant for his home. With the assistance of a criminal law attorney, the prior search could be challenged, as well as the search warrant. A criminal law attorney protects the rights of the accused and looks at how the search was conducted by inquiring whether the proper steps and constitutional safeguards were being taken at every stage.