Being arrested on drug charges is not only a terrifying experience, but can also result in fines, probation, and sometimes prison. Aside from the legal consequences, a conviction on drug charges can lead to negative professional, social, and personal consequences. With stakes this high, it is important to enlist the services of an experienced trial attorney who can analyze your case and formulate the best possible defense. Often the success of a defense will depend on excluding incriminating evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds. This article discusses three of the most common search and seizure issues that arise in drug cases.
#1: Contrived Consent
Police are very good at convincing people that they must submit to a search even when that search lacks legal basis such as probable cause or a warrant. For this reason you should never voluntarily consent to a search. If a police officer asks to search your home, vehicle, or person, you should firmly but politely make clear that you do not consent to searches. You may be searched anyway, but this puts the officer in the position of having to legally justify the search on grounds other than consent.
#2: Searches exceeding the permissible scope
Even when an officer has a basis for a limited search such as a stop-and-frisk, also known as a Terry stop or a pat-down, it is not uncommon for them to extend the scope of this search beyond its intended purpose (discovery of weapons) as a pretext to search for other contraband such as drugs. Sometimes drugs are incidentally discovered during these searches. In these cases, if the container in which the drugs are found was hard to the touch, the evidence will be admitted because an officer could reasonably have believed it to be a weapon. If the container was soft to the touch, the officer cannot use this basis to support the search because he had no objectively reasonable fear that he was encountering a weapon.
#3: Pretextual Stops and Prolonged Detentions
In other cases, a routine traffic stop may suddenly and without warning turn into a prolonged detention. The United States Supreme Court has recently held that police may not convert a routine traffic stop into a full-blown investigation involving a vehicle search without probable cause beyond that which formed basis for the initial stop. In Rodriguez v. United States, an officer extended a traffic stop, forcing a suspect to wait for several minutes for a canine unit to arrive. A subsequent search aided by the drug dog yielded methamphetamines, and the suspect was arrested. The Supreme Court held that this additional search was not supported by probable cause and constituted an unreasonably prolonged detention in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Probable cause for a traffic stop does not give the officer unlimited discretion to pursue an investigation as far as he wants. Additional facts supporting the expanded scope of the investigation must come to light.
Experienced Colorado Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help
If you have been arrested on drug charges or for a DUI, don’t make the mistake of attempting to represent yourself. Even if you are only charged with a misdemeanor, the consequences of a drug conviction can negatively impact your life in ways you may not have even considered. Every case is different, and the best defense in your situation may not be among those discussed above. Only a skilled attorney can assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case based on intensive factual investigation. Call Tiftickjian Law Firm today for a free consultation.