The 4th Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches of our bodies, homes, and cars, among other things. There seems to be an epidemic of cases where police officers stop someone for a minor traffic violation , then pressures the driver into consenting to a search of their car. Of course we only know of cases where drugs have been found; those are the cases we see in the appellate courts. Who knows how many times cops have searched vehicles and found nothing?
I am sure you have seen cars stopped by police while traveling on our expressways. Because of my law practice, I pay particular attention when I see these instances; even thought I may be traveling by at a fast speed, when I pass a stopped car and I see officers searching the car, I pay close attention. Many times, quite frankly, the drivers are either black or Hispanic.
No doubt these police officers are “profiling” drivers of color; they pull over the drivers on minor traffic offenses (or make one up), with the express intention of searching the car for drugs. This is the routine: cop pulls you over, say, for speeding; takes your license, and after having checked on your license status comes back and asks if he/she can search car for drugs. If you say “no”, the officer threatens you. The officer may ask you why you are exercising your rights, and ultimately will threaten to “bring the drug dog” if you will not give consent to search.
Fortunately, the Georgia Appellate courts have sided with our Forefathers in upholding the 4th Amendment in these cases. In the past 12 months alone, the Georgia Appeals Courts have reversed 4 or 5 trial courts who have ruled these searches as legal.
You might say, “well I don’t carry illegal drugs in my car, so who cares?. As a middle aged white car who doesn’t fit the profile of a drug courier, I really don’t have much expectation that a cop will ask if he can search my car. But if you have children, and especially if you are black or Latino, the truth is that there is a high likelihood that at some point in time they will be stopped and will be asked to consent to a search.
I recently won a motion to throw out such a search, where my 20 year old client was stopped for a brake light being out; she had not been drinking, nor was there any evidence which would have indicated she had any drugs in her car. After 28 minutes of threats by the officer, who eventually called a drug dog, my client “consented” to a search; a half pill of methadone was found in the car; this was a car that had been used by several members of her family, so in reality she did not know what was in her car. Because the stop was for a brake light, and because there was no probable cause to prolong the stop and ask for a search, the case was thrown out against my client.
In addition to DUI defense, I handle any case involving the stop of vehicles by police, including felony drug cases.