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Police Check Parked Cars

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RICHLAND, Wash. - Richland police write a traffic ticket to a Kennewick man after an officer runs a check on his license in a Walmart parking lot.

The driver claims police violated his rights, but officers said it was perfectly legal.

Most people know police can write you a ticket when your registration expires. The question is, Do police have the right to check your car when its sitting in a parking lot?

That's exactly what happened to Gary Sweet. Thursday, Sweet appeared in Benton County District Court contesting tickets he got back in May.

Sweet said he parked his car at the Richland Walmart. An officer drove by, saw Sweet's tabs had expired, ran a check on his plates, found out his license was suspended, and wrote him a ticket.

"I think it's a civil rights violation. I think the 4th Ammendment of the Constitution should protect us against those unreasonable searches on private property," said Sweet.   

However, Richland officers said even though Walmart owns the parking lot, that area is open to the public, and open game for officers to write you a ticket.

"Any place the public has access to, we can make contacts and obtain information that is public information, such as your vehicle registration," said Capt. Mike Cobb, Richland Police Department.  

Cobb said that doesn't mean officers can stick their nose around wherever they want.

"Now if this were a fenced compound were I owned it and I restricted access to only my family members, and I had a huge 8 foot wall around it that was not visible from public property, that's a different scenario."

But that's not logic Sweet said he agrees with. And he plans to take his case to trial, now set for September 14th.

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