A particularly inept aspiring New Jersey drug dealer recently texted himself all the way to jail by messaging a detective he mistakenly believed was a potential customer. After agreeing to meet at a local pizza parlor, ostensibly for the sale of a quarter-pound of marijuana, the dealer quickly fled when he suspected that his new customer might be planning to arrest him. After police stopped the suspect’s vehicle and performed a search with a warrant based on a police dog’s detection of narcotics, the dealer was arrested for possession of drugs.
Can my vehicle be searched for drugs when police pull me over?
Under the U.S. Constitution, every individual is entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy, subject to certain limitations, and every search must therefore be considered reasonable. Generally, this means police must have a warrant that permits them to search the property. Because of their presence in public on the open road, the law deems drivers to have a diminished expectation of privacy and, therefore, the police may search a car without a warrant, provided there is probable cause that a search would reveal that the vehicle contains illegal substances. Probable cause can be established by seeing contraband in plain view or smelling contraband coming from the vehicle. In New Jersey, there must also be an element of exigency that makes waiting to obtain a warrant impractical or impossible at that time.
Can my vehicle be searched without probable cause?
A police officer without a warrant and without probable cause may still legally be able to search a vehicle simply by seeking and receiving the driver’s consent. Surprisingly, many drivers with contraband in their vehicles agree to such searches. All consent, however, must be free from coercion, duress or threats and must be completely voluntary.
Can I fight charges based on a warrantless search?
In many cases, the evidence law enforcement gathers at the time of the arrest is not admissible in court because the search through which it was obtained violated the law. Qualified counsel can attack such evidence on a number of grounds. Not least of all, the nature of the consent can be attacked based on the involuntariness of the consent. Factors that may help establish that consent was involuntary include:
- The individual was already in custody when consent was given or the individual wasn’t advised of the right to refuse consent.
- Law enforcement misrepresented probable cause to search.
- Law enforcement employed overly coercive tactics or intimidation to elicit consent.
Those facing drug charges can put the experienced criminal defense lawyers of Hoffman DiMuzio on their side to develop effective defenses against accusers.