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Can a Routine Traffic Stop Lead to a Drug Search?

You are pulled over for a routine traffic stop. You have important legal rights. This raises an important question: Can police search your car for drugs during an ordinary traffic stop? The short answer is “no”—or, more accurately, they cannot lawfully conduct a drug search without probable cause. If probable cause exists, a search is allowed. Our Stuart drug crimes defense lawyer provides a comprehensive overview of the key things you should know about routine traffic stops and drug searches in Florida.

Routine Traffic Stop Lead to a Drug Search

What is a Routine Traffic Stop?

As a starting point, it is important to understand what a routine traffic stop entails. Broadly speaking, a routine traffic stop is a law enforcement officer’s temporary detention of a driver to investigate a possible violation of traffic law. Most often these stops typically happen because of speeding, red-light violations, stop sign violations, equipment issues, or outdated registration tags. During a stop, an officer may check for a valid driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. It is called a routine stop because there is no suspension of a more serious crime.

Know Your Rights: Freedom From an Unreasonable Search

You have legal rights. Just because you are being stopped for an alleged traffic violation does not give a police officer an unencumbered right to search your vehicle. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. You cannot be searched by police unless:

  • They have a valid judicial search warrant;
  • They have probable cause to suspect a crime; or
  • You give consent to conduct the search.

Note: You never have to give police the right to search your vehicle. Indeed, it is not in your best interests to consent to a search. You can and should decline to let police search your car if they ask to do so. It does not make you look guilty, and it cannot be used against you in court.

Why a Routine Traffic Stop Could Lead to a Drug Search in Florida

To conduct a search of your vehicle for drugs, an office needs a warrant or probable cause. At a routine traffic stop, the officer is not going to have a warrant to search your vehicle. That being said, he or she could potentially have probable cause. Probable cause is a legal standard that requires sufficient reason based on known facts to believe a person has committed a crime. Here are some of the most common reasons why probable cause for a drug search might exist at a routine traffic stop:

  • Visible Drugs or Drug paraphernalia: It is not a “search” if something is visible. If items related to drug use are seen in plain view within the car—such as in the center console—that could be probable cause for a more comprehensive search.
  • The Odor of Illegal Substances: An officer smelling drugs emanating from the vehicle can constitute probable cause. Most often, this is an issue with marijuana.
  • Admissions by the Driver or Passenger: Statements made during the stop that suggest illegal activity could also be probable cause for a drug search at a traffic stop.

You Have the Right to Challenge an Illegal Search (Could Get Evidence Thrown Out)

Does a police officer get to decide whether or not they have probable cause to conduct a drug search? The answer is “no”—probable cause is an issue for the court and it can be challenged in legal proceedings. If you believe a search was conducted illegally during a routine traffic stop, do not try to physically stop the officer from searching. That will lead to a more serious issue. Instead, know your rights:

  • You have the right to challenge the search in court.

As part of a broader defense strategy, a Florida drug defense lawyer can help you understand your rights and may file a motion to suppress any evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search. If a judge rules that the search was illegal—meaning there was no probable cause—the evidence obtained through it can be “suppressed.” In other words, that evidence can be excluded from your case. It could lead to drug drugs getting dropped outright.

Contact Our Stuart, FL Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Today

At The Law Office of Denise Miller, PA, our Florida criminal defense lawyer has extensive experience handling drug cases. If you have any questions about a drug search after a traffic stop, we are here as a legal resource. Call us now or contact us online to arrange your confidential initial appointment. With an office in Stuart, we defend drug charges in Martin County and throughout South Florida.

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