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Traffic Stops and Florida Drug Charges
Everyone has been pulled over at some point in their lives, but for many, it can be a frightening and intimidating experience. It is important to understand your rights during a traffic stop, as too often, police officers may either intentionally or unintentionally misquote the law or try to overstep their authority, especially if drugs are possibly involved. If you have been charged with a drug crime after a traffic stop, it is crucial that you know your options going forward.
In Florida, and everywhere else, a police officer must have a reason to pull someone over. This can be as negligible as running a red light, speeding, or any other moving violation, but nonetheless, probable cause must exist. That said, probable cause must exist before someone can be stopped. In many cases, a law enforcement officer can search your vehicle without probable cause if you have already been stopped, because a vehicle is movable – if a warrant was required, the owner would simply move the vehicle and possibly never be seen again. Thus, vehicles usually have a “reduced expectation of privacy” compared to one’s home or person.
Sometimes, depending on the situation, a search of your vehicle will be permissible due to what are referred to as warrant exceptions. Some include:
- If you are legally able to consent and you give that consent to law enforcement for a search, it lets the search take place;
- ‘Exigent circumstances.’ If law enforcement is responding to what may be a life-threatening emergency, or a situation where evidence is being destroyed, a warrant is not required because there is simply no time to issue it; and
- Plain view. If an officer is somewhere they can lawfully be, and they have reason to believe that an item in plain view is contraband or otherwise connected to a crime, they can seize it without a warrant being required.
Know Your Rights
If you are charged with drug possession after a traffic stop, it is crucial to be aware of your rights. It may be possible to attack the search based on a lack of probable cause – for example, in years past, the smell of marijuana or another drug could conceivably provide probable cause for a law enforcement officer to search a vehicle, even if no other reason existed. However, the legalization of medical marijuana has thrown this into sharp relief – if someone is pulled over for a traffic stop and law enforcement searches the car due to the smell of marijuana, a court might throw out any evidence obtained, because now, the smell is not immediate probable cause to assume a crime has occurred.
If you cannot attack the search, be aware that there is a limited amount of time that a law enforcement officer can hold you at the scene, and in addition, you do not have to answer questions that are asked of you. This is doubly true if you are not under arrest – if you are not being detained, you have no obligation to answer any questions, or consent to any searches, though many people do so voluntarily. Either way, enlisting an attorney to help with your case can be a great help in getting through the legal process.
Call A West Palm Beach Drug Possession Attorney
Traffic stops can be scary, no matter who you are. If you have been charged with drug possession as a result of a Florida traffic stop, enlisting an experienced West Palm Beach drug crimes attorney from the firm of Perlet, Shiner, Melchiorre & Walsh, P.A. can help ease your mind and make sure that your rights are protected during the criminal process. Contact our offices today to speak to an attorney.