Legal Rights During a DC Gun Investigations

Someone who is under investigation for gun crimes in DC, should be aware of their legal rights. Some of the most important rights are those concerning legal and illegal searches. It is important to know when a search is legal and allowed, and when it is not.

Consenting to a Search

As a general rule, police aren’t allowed to search a person’s private possessions, including their car, without a search warrant. Over the years, the courts have granted a huge number of exceptions to the warrant requirement that allow police officers to search cars in a number of different circumstances without a warrant. The most common way for police officers to do that is by getting a person’s consent to perform a search. When a person gives consent to a police search of their car, that person has effectively waived nearly all of their constitutional rights to challenge that search later. Police officers frequently first ask a person for permission to search their car, knowing this fact.

Many people consent to car searches because they think they have already been caught and believe that if they consent, the police officer will go easy on them. That is almost never the case. Getting consent to search is the easiest way for the police to carry out a search of a person’s car and to get evidence to use later on in a court case to convict the person.

Plain View Doctrine

Even if the police don’t have consent to search a person’s car, there are several other ways they can legally search. One common way to legally search without a person’s consent and without a search warrant is if they see any kind of contraband in plain view in the vehicle. For example, if the police officer pulls someone over for speeding and sees a gun lying on the passenger side seat in plain view, they can go into the car, seize the contraband, and search the entirety of the car for any other items of contraband, even if what they find is not connected to the initial stop.

Search Following Arrest

Another way police can search the car is if there is a basis to arrest the driver. The police officer has the authority to get a person out of their car, arrest them, and then search the vehicle incident to the arrest. As an example, when the police pull someone over for a speeding violation and find that the person’s driver’s license is suspended, the police officer can arrest the driver for driving on a suspended license and can subsequently search the inside of their car.

There are a number of other reasons the police may validly search a person’s car. It is important that a person understands their constitutional rights, and that they are never required to consent to a search of their car. If the police officer searches a person’s car anyway, the person should speak with a lawyer about whether the event was consistent with the requirements of both DC Law and the US Constitution or whether it constituted an illegal car search.

Person Searches

A police officer can inspect a person to see if they possess a firearm when they see someone on the street and the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person was engaging in some illegal activity very recently, as opposed to two days ago or three years ago. If the officer believes that the person is about to commit some illegal act or very recently committed an illegal act, the police are allowed to conduct a Terry stop. A Terry stop is a very brief detention in order to conduct a quick pat down of a person’s outer garments.

The police aren’t allowed to detain the person for a long period of time to conduct the search. They are not allowed to search deeply into the person’s clothes or into their personal belongings. They can conduct the pat down of a person’s outer garments to see if they can feel anything that might be a dangerous weapon. This could include knives or anything that could feel like a gun. If they feel something like that, the police have the authority to conduct a deeper search and charge the person with anything they find on the person. These stops are extremely limited and cannot be used on just anyone for any reason. The police must establish certain reasonable suspicions to be able to conduct one of these limited pat downs.

Personal Searches After an Arrest

A person can also be searched to see if they are in possession of a firearm if they have been arrested for some other crime. As an example, if the police see someone on the street in possession of some kind of contraband, such as an illegal drug, they can arrest the person for the possession of the illegal drug and then search them incident to that arrest. The police can charge that person even though they didn’t see the gun in the first place.

There are different ways a police officer can search a person’s body to see if they’re in possession of a firearm. But as with car searches, it’s important for a person to note that they are never required to consent to a search of their body. Asserting that right can help a person challenge any search the police may conduct at a later date after that person consults with a lawyer about their case.