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Friday, 14 November 2014 11:16

Vehicle Searches: What You Need to Know

By Megan Harrington | News

On Monday Nov. 10, a Saratoga County Sheriff’s Deputy abruptly resigned following charges of misconduct and harassment.  Sgt. Shawn R. Glans, a 27-year veteran of the force, stepped down after a video showing Glans harassing a young man was posted online over the weekend.

The incident began when Glans received a call reporting suspicious activity around 2:30 a.m. on Friday Nov. 7 near Route 236 in Halfmoon. By the time Glans and his fellow deputies arrived, the vehicle was gone, but a few minutes later they located another car matching the descripting in the Walmart parking lot.

Upon approaching the vehicle, Sgt. Glans noticed a .22-caliber rifle in the back seat and told the car’s owner, Colin Fitch, and his friend, Adam Roberts, that he wanted to search the car.

Fitch replied that he didn’t want Glans to perform the search without a warrant and the scene escalated from there. Glans, who was unaware that Roberts was videotaping the scene with his cell phone, grew more and more agitated during the confrontation. Glans’ speech was littered with curse words and in the video you can hear him allegedly slapping Fitch.

In a press release, Sheriff Michael H. Zurlo said, “The actions of Sergeant Glans both as a police officer and a supervisor were completely inappropriate and unwarranted and not condoned in any fashion by the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office.” Zurlo also maintained that Glans’ actions are not a reflection of the Sheriff’s Office as a whole.

In light of this incident and the pending charges, we decided to dig a little digger into the laws and rights surrounding car searches. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects you from search or seizure without probable cause, but what exactly is probable cause? The most widely accepted definition is that the police must have reasonable suspicion that a suspect has committed a crime. Facts or evidence must be present. For example if an officer sees a bloody weapon in your car or smells marijuana, that’s considered probable cause.

If you’re pulled over by the police, it’s important to remember that you are required to show your license and registration— you can be ticketed if you don’t comply. If an officer asks to look inside your car, you do not have to give your consent. However, if an officer believes evidence of a crime is within your car, your permission won’t be needed. It is unclear what criminal evidence Sgt. Glans believed was present in Fitch’s vehicle.

There are a number of situations when a police officer has the authority to search your car. The first, obviously, is if you give your consent. If an officer asks and you say it’s OK, he or she can proceed with the search.

The second situation is when an illegal or suspicious item is in “plain view.” For example, if an officer pulls you over for speeding and notices a bag of drugs on the backseat, he or she has the authority to search the rest of your car for contraband.

The third situation would be in connection to an arrest. If an officer has probable cause to arrest you, he or she can then proceed to search your car for further evidence.

The police can also search your car if they have probable cause to believe a crime has taken place or if “exigent circumstances” exist. Exigent circumstances can be likened to an emergency situation. An example of this would be if a police officer suspects you may try to flee or destroy evidence in the wake of a crime.

What if you really don’t want your car and personal property to be searched? If the officer has a warrant or can claim one of the above reasons, you must submit to the search. If none of the outlined situations apply and you refuse consent, the officer can hold you until a search warrant can be obtained. The guidelines for detaining a driver depend on the situation, but you can be held as long as it takes police to conduct the investigation, within reason. Remember that detentions are considered voluntary unless you ask (politely) to leave.

As far as the official protocol for the Sheriff’s office, during Monday’s press conference, Sheriff Zurlo said that Glans should have received permission from the car’s owner. If the permission was withheld, Glans could have detained Fitch until a warrant was issued.

Following Glans’ resignation, Justice Lester Wormuth arraigned him in the Town of Halfmoon Court. Glans was released and is scheduled to appear again at a later date.



- The right to remain silent in order to avoid incriminating yourself.

- The right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car or your home.

- The right to leave as long as you are not under arrest.

- The right to a lawyer if you are arrested.



- Do stay calm and be polite.

- Do not interfere with or obstruct the police.

- Do not lie or give false documents.

- Do prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested.

- Do remember the details of the encounter.


(Source: The American Civil Liberties Union)



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