Defending Interstate Traffic Stop Drug Cases
Most of our work in this criminal defense office is in either Coweta County, Georgia or Carroll County, Georgia. Growing up, Ryan Brown spent much of his time in these areas and they still feel like home.
Because of this experience, Ryan is very familiar with a unique feature of these two counties. Both have major interstates running through them (I-20 in Carroll and I-85 in Coweta), and with major interstates, comes drug busts.
Cops love nothing more than to get on the front page of the local paper with a k9 and a few pounds of marijuana. This strokes their ego and may help get them a raise.
How Do these Busts Go Down
There are few steps in a roadside drug bust in Coweta, Carroll, Troup and Meriwether Counties. We are about to explore how these stops typically place.
We will explore the biases that cops use to stop drivers who are minding their own business. We will explore how cops use the law to cover for their biases and traffic stops that come from those biases. We will explore the process of that traffic stop, and how folks handle themselves when they find themselves pulled over on the side of Interstate 85 or Interstate 20 and facing a drug arrest.
Step 1: A Pretextual Stop
What the heck is a pretextual stop? A pretextual stop is where a cop conducts a traffic stop for an alleged minor traffic offense for the purpose of investigation of different suspected criminal activity.
This permits cops to quite literally pull over whoever they want whenever they want because it is nearly impossible to drive without committing some sort of traffic violation. So, cops can get away with pulling someone over for being black, hispanic, or simply for looking at the officer the wrong way so long as the cop can come up with some traffic violation. (tip: they always come up with something because it is hard to hold them accountable - my passion is to hold these cops accountable).
Cops continue to use these pretextual stops because they achieve their goals using them. They want to, at least, make as many drug arrests as possible regardless of your constitutional rights. Another reason is that no one is holding them accountable. Lawyers must challenge the stops, courts must hear the arguments and make rulings that require courage.
Step 2: The Investigation
The officer will approach the vehicle and make some small talk about the alleged traffic violation. A lot of times they'll forget what it was and won't even write a ticket for it. When they approach there a few ways that the cop will proceed.
1) They will "smell marijuana" despite many times never finding any. When this happens they are going to search the vehicle. When you hear them saying they smell marijuana you should immediately close your mouth and stop talking (you shouldn't be talking to the cops anyway).
2) They will ask your consent to search the vehicle. IF YOU HAVE SPENT ANY TIME WITH ME YOU KNOW WE DO NOT GIVE THE COPS CONSENT TO SEARCH ANYTHING! You have rights. Your rights are meaningless if you don't use them. And when you consent to a search you make your lawyer's job exceptionally more difficult as he or she prepares to fight your charges.
3) Cops have come up with some absolutely ridiculous reasons based on their "training and experience" (a phrase that bears little to no weight because of its gross overuse) to come up with probable cause and reasonable suspicion. Many officers utter "based on training and experience before deciding what is for dinner. I'm just going to bullet point a few things officers have deemed suspicious based on training and experience for your enjoyment.
- A clean vehicle.
- Looking at the officer.
- Looking away at the officer.
- Young person driving a newer vehicle.
- Driving in a car with meal wrappers.
- Driving too carefully.
- Driving on the interstate.
- Too many air fresheners. The tree-shaped ones have been dubbed the "felony forest."
- Opening door instead of rolling windows down.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Being nervous.
Chief Justice Brian Quinn in Texas has remarked that "a logical reasoning sequence based upon some "training and experience" - because drug traffickers have been breathing, then breathing is an indicia of drug trafficking. Because they normally have two hands, then having two hands is an indicia of drug smuggling."
Step 3: Your Car Is Searched
They are going to search your car. First, they will ask your permission and you will always say no.
Then they will probably search your car anyway. They are going to trample your rights to be free from warrantless searches in the name of government and the "war on drugs." They will spill everything out of your car with reckless disregard.
Then, if they find something they will arrest you. If they don't they'll give you some traffic tickets and set you on your way. It's then going to be up to the lawyer to fight your case.
You Have to Hire a Lawyer
Most traffic stop cases are defended through a motion to suppress. This hearing is a truth-finding expedition that attempts to get to the root of what happened.
We will examine the stop and search to see if they actually had a reason to stop you. Did the officers extend the search too long? Did they exceed the scope of any consent you mistakenly gave? Did they plant evidence? Did they conduct the search in an illegal way?
Motions to Suppress are fact-intensive and vary greatly from case to case. The takeaway is that if you were stopped don't give consent to search and that will give your lawyer the best chance to challenge your case.
If you were charged with a drug crime stemming from an arrest on the side of I-20 or I-85 then don't hesitate to contact us. We can help you and will be happy to chat with you about your case.