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When do Sarasota police have probable cause to search?

Last week, two men drove their car into a Sarasota gas station after midnight, when it was closed. Police were alerted to a vehicle acting suspiciously and intercepted it after it left the station. They proceeded to conduct a search. The search allegedly turned up a number of devices known as skimmers.

Skimmers are electronic devices attached to gas pumps and used to illegally obtain customers' payment card information. Police also claimed to find tools used to install devices like these during their search, and two matching devices actually installed in the gas pumps at the station the men had just left. Skimmers were also found at two other area gas stations.

The defendants face a number of charges related to possession of the skimmers and offenses against computer networks. The driver of the car also faces charges pertaining to a number of credit cards in his possession that police claimed were counterfeit. Both have had bail set at over $150,000.

It's important to remember that suspects in a criminal law matter are entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and they are entitled to defend themselves against the charges in a criminal trial. In particular, they can call out actions taken by police and question whether they complied with the law. A police search, for example, of a vehicle or of a person can only be conducted with probable cause. Even pulling over a suspect's vehicle requires probable cause.

If the police do not follow the law when searching a suspect or a vehicle, any purported evidence obtained in that search may be ruled inadmissible in court. Criminal defense professionals can help defendants understand and protect their legal rights when they have been subjected to this kind of treatment by police.

Source: Herald-Tribune, "Men accused of putting skimmers on Sarasota gas pumps," Dec. 7, 2017

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