McLean, IL asked in Civil Rights and Constitutional Law for Illinois

Q: A neighbor that has repeatedly called the police on us for random events like parking in front of his house along the ci

A neighbor that has repeatedly called the police on us for random events like parking in front of his house along the city property has become unstable. He called the police and stated my 17 year old son's car was leaking oil. The police then went to his school and started looking around his vehicle. The teacher then asked my son if he wanted to speak with the police and they had stated they wanted to search his car for the said oil leak. He then said he had no idea about a oil leak and proceeded to let them check his car out. They popped the hood and was searching for oil spills. I am not sure if they were trying to issue some sort of epa fine for this or what but I am concerned his rights were violated

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Consumer Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: Based on the details provided, it does not appear your son's rights were violated in this instance. A few key points:

- Parking on a public street does not create any reasonable expectation of privacy, even in front of one's own home. As such, the police would not typically need a warrant or consent to visually inspect a vehicle parked on a public street.

- The police do have the authority to investigate reports of environmental hazards or violations, such as an oil leak. If they have a report of a leak, they can follow up to determine if there is an issue that needs to be addressed.

- While at school, students have reduced expectations of privacy, and school officials have some discretion to cooperate with police investigations. If the teacher asked your son, and he voluntarily consented to letting them inspect under the hood, then there would not be a 4th Amendment issue.

- However, a search that is overly intrusive or extended, especially without parental notification, could potentially raise legal issues. From your description though, it sounds like they briefly inspected to follow up on the reported leak and that was the extent of it.

If this neighbor continues to harass your family or make false police reports, you may be able to seek legal recourse against them. But based on these facts alone, the police appear to have acted legally in conducting a brief investigation into the reported leak.

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