Drug Charges: The Anatomy of a Traffic Stop and Search.

David Lindsey, Attorney at Law

On behalf of David Lindsey, Attorney at Law posted in Drug Charges on Thursday, August 4, 2011.

Many drug charges begin with a routine traffic stop. Law enforcement authorities are obviously permitted to stop motorists who violate traffic laws. This is true even for minor infractions such as lack of a light illuminating the license plate of a vehicle, or even violations as minor as speeding one mile an hour over the speed limit. A routine traffic stop constitutes a ”seizure”

within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment even though the purpose of the

stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief.

Law enforcement are permitted to detain an individual for a limited amount of time and to ask a limited amount of questions such as travel plans and vehicle ownership during the traffic stop. However, because the officer usually retains the individual’s driver’s license and other papers this initial phase is considered detention of an individual up until the time that the documents and license are returned. Once the documents are returned. the citizen is free to go and need not submit to any further interrogation or consent to a vehicle search by law enforcement. Normal law enforcement techniques in this area are to return the documents and then ask the citizen if he is willing to answer a few more questions. This citizen is free to say no and be on his way, yet because of the inherent coercive power of the officer’s presence few decline to answer further questions.

If the officer develops “reasonable suspicion” during this “consensual questioning,” he may engage in an additional limited detention of the citizen. Usually, this involves the deployment of a drug sniffing dog. If the dog gives an alert signal on the citizen’s vehicle, then the law provides that the officer has probable cause to conduct a full blown search of the vehicle without a search warrant. Law enforcement agents are trained to obtain consent from citizens and many times they are able to overpower the will of a citizen with this training.

If you have been pulled over for a routine traffic stop, and that stop resulted in a search of the vehicle that resulted in criminal drug charges you need to hire an attorney who is familiar and experienced in handling these matters so that appropriate motions to suppress can be filed in your case.

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