Getting involved with drugs is never a good idea, but at the same time, thousands of people in the US manage a recreational drug habit without bothering or hurting anyone but themselves for years. Whether they only partake at parties with friends or secure a small amount to use at home, it’s not uncommon for drug users to live completely private lives without being suspected of, targeted for, or charged with a drug crime. There are many people who have every reason to believe that, though they acquire and possess illegal drugs on a regular basis, they will never have an unpleasant encounter with the cops. Why, you ask?
What’s interesting about your civil rights is that while it is illegal to possess and use scheduled drugs, the police are not allowed to interfere with your life if they have no reasonable suspicion that you have done anything wrong and there are many things they can’t do without a written warrant from a judge. This means that it is absolutely possible for a legitimate drug charge based on drugs found on your person, in your vehicle, or in your home or office can be completely thrown out simply because the police did not do their jobs correctly. In fact, the vast majority of drug cases are ‘won’ or ‘lost’ not in the courtroom, but when it is determined whether or not the police violated the rights of the accused.
The Overzealous Search for Drug Criminals
While job dedication always varies from person to person, police tend to be enthusiastic about their jobs, which makes sense. Otherwise, they would have chosen another career. Most cops love the feeling of finding a criminal, protecting the populace from dangerous people, and taking drugs off the street. There are a lot of situations where this dedication to stopping drug crime is exactly what is needed. It gives them the focus to hunt down drug rings and stop access points distributing drugs to minors.
Unfortunately, with the recent ‘realization’ that drug dealers can look like anyone now, police are becoming more than a little overzealous in their search for drugs and their crack-down on casual users who are suspected of being dealers. This has caused them to pull people over who were driving perfectly safely, to search cars without a warrant based on their idea of ‘reasonable suspicion’ and even to overstep their bounds inside homes and offices in their quest to confiscate all the drugs in the state. While their energy and dedication is admirable, it also all too often violates the personal and civil rights of the people being searched.
Lawful and Unlawful Vehicle Search
Because pulling over vehicles and dealing with whatever and whoever is inside is such an integral part of modern police work, there are a number of rules that determine whether or not the police have the right to search your vehicle and what they can do with anything they find. Many people, especially those who are carrying a small amount of personal drugs, are so nervous that they don’t realize they can refuse the police or that the police are overstepping their bounds. To be clear, we’ll outline when the police are and are not allowed to search your vehicle after pulling you over.
The first and most clearly lawful search is one where you give verbal or written permission to search your vehicle. Mumbling “Yeah” counts as consent if the officers ask you if they can perform a search but you also don’t have to say anything at all. Not giving consent doesn’t 100% prevent the police from searching your person or your car, but it will mean that they have to have a solid case of reasonable suspicion or probable cause in order for the case to be accepted in court. In other words, never consent to a search unless you are completely certain the car is clean.
Police officers are allowed to use the evidence of their eyes (or their sense of touch in some cases) to confirm that a law is being broken and that further search is appropriate. If, for instance, there is clear and easily identifiable drug paraphernalia or a packet of suspicious white powder propped up in the cup holder, the police are then allowed to search the entire car, confiscate anything they find, and arrest you for suspected drug possession. The charge, of course, cannot go through unless they both find and chemically confirm the presence of drugs in your possession.
On the flip-side, probable cause is required even to pull you over in the first place except in roadblock situations where every single vehicle is stopped and questioned, as they might in the case of an amber alert. This means that unless you are provably driving erratically, there is something visibly wrong with your vehicle or another cause for suspicion that can be clearly stated and proved, the officer didn’t have the right to stop you in the first place and anything that happens after that is also unlawful.
That said, if the officer does pull you over for something minor but legitimate like a broken tail light, they can then search your car if your behavior or the state of your front seat interior gives them articulable reason to suspect drugs or other illegal activities.
Incident to Arrest
There are also situations where an officer may pull you over for something other than drugs, like erratic driving. If you were driving in a way to trigger ‘probable cause’, then the officer then has the right to ask you to perform a roadside test and to come with them for testing back at the police station or a nearby hospital. If you are arrested for a DUI, the officer then has the right to search your car and any drugs found are found lawfully and can be rolled into your charges.
Exigent Circumstances – Risk
Finally, if the officer believes for some reason that there is risk to themselves, bystanders, or risk that evidence of a crime is about to be destroyed, they have the right to search you and your vehicle. Most people will not find themselves in this situation simply by not being dangerous but it is important to mention that this is an exception to the consent to search rule.
What to Do If You Are Unlawfully Searched and Arrested
If you are pulled over without cause or searched without consent or reasonable suspicion, there is very little you can do in the moment. Resisting the police is not only dangerous, it can also damage your defense by allowing the police to paint you as violent or irrational. Instead, your best defense is to state that you do not give consent but otherwise cooperate calmly. You don’t have to answer any questions, you don’t’ have to be bullied into giving consent, but you should not resist or try to stop the officers from searching your car. If drugs are found and the search is found to be unlawful, the case can be thrown out.
The key to protecting yourself from unlawful police search is to keep your cool and call a lawyer immediately. Though you might be required to take a drug test at the station, you have a right to call a lawyer first and wait for them to arrive before taking the test. If you are arrested as the result of an unlawful stop or search, know your rights and contact us today. We can offer you experienced Minnesota drug crime defense and your best chance at seeing the case thrown out due to police misconduct.
Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.