What usually leads to a search and drug arrest?

Interviewer: How do the police find these drugs? If they are in someone’s pocket, purse, etc., and not in plain sight, what typically leads up to the drugs being found by the police? How does it happen?

Ladan Law: There are proactive law enforcement squads that go out and look to actively to interact with the public. There are also reactive patrol units. They’re out there writing tickets, and investigating burglaries, and sometimes they stumble upon drugs.

The most common thing that we see on the proactive side are very minor traffic stops in high crime areas. For example, a proactive police force might pull over a car for rolling past the stop bar that’s painted at a stop sign. Nine times out of ten, you’re never going to get stopped for that offense, but these guys are out at night looking for drugs.

Next, they will come up and make an observation during their traffic stop. It may or may not be a legitimate stop, but any traffic violation gives the police probable cause to give you a citation. If it looks like you rolled past the stop bar and there’s no other evidence that says that you didn’t, it’s likely that it’s going to pass that review.

How does the search happen? Well, sometimes somebody in the car has a warrant. Now, they’re going to get everybody out and pat them down for officer safety reasons, which the Supreme Court has said is legitimate. Someone gets up from a seat, and lo and behold, there’s a baggie sitting in the seat.

The police also have a powerful tool with the “plain smell” doctrine. A street level, reasonable, experienced officer knows what the smell of marijuana is, and if they smell the odor of marijuana, with nothing else, that gives them probable cause to search the vehicle or somebody’s purse.

If you smell like marijuana, or they smell marijuana in the car, there’s a good chance that they’re going to pull everybody out and tear the car up looking for any contraband. Whatever they find is most likely going to be ruled fair game. We do a very close analysis of that, to make sure they’ve complied with the legal requirements.

Another scenario is that there are plenty of canine units that are trained to identify drugs. If the officer has a reasonable suspicion that there are drugs in the car, people can be stopped for a reasonable period of time, even after a traffic citation has been completed, to do a drug sweep.

There’s a whole line of cases and case law that deals with how broad a drug search can be with a dog. You can go into the dog’s training and experience, and results of their past searches. This can be helpful for the defense. Many times we can find a weak link in that chain. That may be all it takes to have evidence suppressed, even if there are drugs found in somebody’s pocket or car.

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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