New law makes searching vehicles without a warrant harder

By Layron Livingston - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - A new supreme court ruling puts an end to the way officers have done it for more than a quarter of a century...

"It'll change how we do it all over the United States," said Constable John Smith.

Smith County Precinct 4 Constable Smith is no stranger to traffic stops. He worked I-20 for nearly a decade. He said a simple stop can to often lead to something bigger than a speeding ticket.

"Finding a dead body in the trunk [or] solving a homicide," Smith gave some examples. "[We might] find a kidnap victim in the trunk of a car. I'm not in the business of violating people's civil rights, but what I am in the business for...that's to take drug dealers and thieves off the street."

He said the ruling may slow things down, but it's one he'll adjust to.

"Law enforcement officers seem to believe that they have the right to search a vehicle every time they stop someone," said Tyler attorney Buck Files.

He said the high court's ruling makes it clear.

"You cannot take someone from their automobile, put them in a patrol car, handcuff them, and go back and simply have the right to search the car under any circumstances," he said.

However, the court says a warrant would not be necessary if police believe the suspect may destroy evidence inside the car or if they were to reach for a weapon putting officers in danger. Files said it took officers years to get used to miranda rights - the whole right to remain silent thing, and this won't be any different.

"For some officers, they're not going to get the message, and they're going to be some cases thrown out," said Files.

Tyler police chief Gary Swindle said his officers will be ready.

"A lot of times these cases end up being developed because police officers abuse the system over time," he explained. "We're just going to have to train to make sure we're doing things properly."

"If we have to get a search warrant, then we'll get a search warrant," said Smith.

It just may take a little more time.

The attorney we spoke with said once the supreme court rules, the law goes into effect.

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