If you read or hear a lot of news stories about someone who has been charged with possession of illegal drugs, pay attention to where the arrest happened. Quite often, the arrest happens after a traffic stop.
A familiar story involves a police officer who pulls over a driver because of a minor offense, such as a faulty taillight. While they have the driver stopped at the side of the road, the police search the person’s vehicle and say they find illegal drugs. They then arrest the driver and charge them with drug crimes.
This type of story appears so often that many people take little notice of it. However, these stories involve some of our most fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects people from “unreasonable” search and seizure. In practice, this means police generally must have a warrant to search a person’s home or car. However, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. Police officers are trained in these exceptions and are skilled in getting their way. For example, they often trick a driver into consenting to a search. If the driver consents to the search, the warrant requirement is waived.
It is important for people who are facing criminal charges that arose out of a traffic stop to discuss the circumstances of their arrest with a criminal defense lawyer. In many cases, a thorough analysis of the facts of the case can reveal that the police officers overstepped their authority and made an unreasonable search and arrest. If the facts show that the search was unreasonable, then the police infringed upon the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights.
If a defendant can prove the search was not lawful under the Fourth Amendment, then they may be able to convince the court to suppress evidence from the search at trial. Without the evidence of the illegal material captured during the search, the case against the defendant may fall apart.