Each year in Wisconsin and throughout the country, people find themselves facing drug charges after being searched by police during traffic stops. In fact, a survey by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 3.5 percent of drivers who were pulled over said they or their vehicles were searched by police.
Of those searched drivers, more than 40 percent said that police did not ask for permission to search, and more than 61 percent of the drivers said they believed the search was illegitimate.
Without probable cause or permission from you, an officer does not have the right to search you or your vehicle.
The unfortunate reality is that unlawful police searches happen more often than law enforcement would have us believe. Even when a search turns up illegal drugs or weapons, the evidence could be suppressed if the police failed to follow proper procedure and the search was unlawful.
One of the most important things that all drivers should understand is that a police officer does not automatically have the right to search you or your vehicle during a traffic stop. In order to conduct a search, the officer must have permission from you or probable cause to think that a crime has been committed.
The Constitution guarantees freedom from illegal search and seizure, and every search and seizure should be closely scrutinized for flaws.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a defendant's right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. In that case -- Rodriguez v. United States -- the high court ruled that a quantity of methamphetamine was unlawfully seized from a man's vehicle. He had been pulled over for a minor traffic violation, but police kept him on the scene after the business of the traffic stop had concluded.
The Supreme Court ruled that, because the man had been issued a ticket and the business of the traffic stop was finished, the police did not have the right to detain him any longer, nor did they have the right to seize anything from his vehicle.
The Supreme Court has made similar rulings in the past.
Charged with a drug crime after a traffic stop? Go with your best defense.
Showing that a search or seizure was unlawful is often the basis for a strong criminal defense. If you are accused of a drug crime based on the results of a police search, then don't hesitate to speak with a criminal defense attorney about your legal options. In many cases, a single flaw in the search or seizure can result in the charge being reduced or dismissed, and a skilled defense attorney can investigate your case for errors in police procedure.
For more on these matters, please see Kim & LaVoy's overview of drug crime defense.