If the STOP was bad, why do I have to GO to jail?
The vast majority of our clients are angry at the circumstances of their arrest, and an overwhelming number of these arrests came as the result of a routine traffic stop that they characterize as illegal, warrantless, unreasonable, or the result of racial or cultural profiling. The stop was bad, many argue, so the fact that I was in possession of a gun, marijuana, paraphernalia, and conflict diamonds should never have been discovered. We agree, when the stop is bad, and are more than happy to listen to these opinions and evaluate the cases honestly and expertly.
The reality of the matter, unfortunately for our clients, is that many traffic stops are legal and reasonable, and the police officer is seeking an easy ticket, not a long, complicated drug or gun arrest. Small municipalities live on traffic citation fines, and usually those who are pulled over were violating a rule, whether they were speeding, driving in the left "passing" lane, driving as a single driver in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane, etc. As a defendant, you may think driving in the left lane is an insufficient reason to leave in handcuffs, but unless you're breaking another law, you won't suffer that indignity. The anger these defendants feel is fueled by frustration and embarrassment that they would not have been arrested if they hadn't sped, if they had used their turn signal, or if they had stayed in the right lane.
Now many of you are shaking your heads, knowing that the police singled you out for arrest after seeing your race, culture, or fondness for the Grateful Dead on display. You are right. The police do target some racial, cultural, or societal groups, and that is all the more reason to adhere strictly to the rules of the road. Why? If the stop is unreasonable, the later search and arrest is as well. If you obey the rules, chances are slim that the police will seek you out, since the next potential felon is speeding with a broken headlight, giving that officer a slam-dunk. It's also a great reason to not carry contraband in your car... ever. But that is a different article.
The next gatekeeper of your civil rights after the stop itself is the search of your person or your vehicle that may result in an arrest. Unfortunately, there is no cut and dried protection from the search after the stop, because police officers know how to write reports, and those reports will inevitably be chock-full of elements that have withstood judicial scrutiny. It will be written that the defendant "seemed nervous", "moved his hands to the center console", or "repeatedly glanced at the glove box/floorboard/etc." If the arrest involves drugs, the officer will "detect the odor that they know to be marijuana" or "smell a strong odor" that prompts bringing in a K-9 unit that "alerts on the vehicle." The more commonplace the crime, such as a DUI or drug possession, the more aware the officer will be of the required phrases to include. These phrases are triggers for the officer's reasonable suspicion leading to probable cause that may result in a defendant's arrest if the search results in damning evidence.
In the end, the Court will look at a defendant's possession of contraband and generally side with the officer who suspected the defendant of a crime. This suspicion was, after all, rewarded by the discovery of contraband, and in the eyes of the Court, the officer has done an exemplary job of investigation.
So what options do you have if you were speeding or breaking a traffic law, and the officer wrote up a report that establishes reasonable suspicion of concealment of a weapon or other contraband based on probable cause for a lawful search? The best thing to do is call in a professional, someone who argues these cases on an a daily basis - call Brent G. Burpee, who can negotiate with the district attorney for the best possible plea bargain deal.
By Brent Burpee (Originally Written for Chad West, PLLC: www.chadwestlaw.com)