If police stop you for a traffic offense such as speeding, the stop could result in drug charges. Even during a routine traffic stop, police officers are allowed to look into your car from the outside. If they see something in plain sight that indicates drug use or possession, this provides probable cause for a more extensive search of you and your vehicle, even without your permission.
You are unlikely to encounter a “drug checkpoint.” The Supreme Court has ruled that police may not establish random roadblocks to check for drug offenses. That doesn’t mean that you are safe from traffic stops that lead to drug charges. Routine traffic stops and DUI checkpoints still can result in drug charges. The police at DUI checkpoints are not allowed to ask for license and registration, and are limited to looking at drivers for signs of intoxication and checking license plate numbers for outstanding offenses. They can, however, act upon what they see in a driver’s car that is in plain sight. Furthermore, there is no prohibition on having drug-sniffing dogs present at DUI checkpoints. The stop at a DUI checkpoint is limited to allowing the police to assess the driver for signs of intoxication (an assessment conducted from outside the vehicle, with the driver still at the wheel). If, during that assessment, drug-sniffing dogs indicate drugs are present in a vehicle, that provides probable cause to search the driver and the vehicle.
Being caught with drugs in your possession after a traffic stop is not necessarily a one-way ticket to jail. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. What constitutes an unreasonable search and seizure is a matter of law, subject to determination by the courts. Evidence of drug possession that an unreasonable traffic stop uncovers might prove inadmissible in court, resulting in the dismissal of charges. This is, however, a difficult path to navigate.
Supreme Court cases have upheld the principle that police must have probable cause to make a traffic stop. In short, police must have a legitimate reason to believe you are breaking a law before stopping you. Of course, this can be as simple as having a headlight or taillight out or failing to signal a turn. If evidence of drug use or possession is in plain sight, that can result in drug charges far more serious than the traffic offense that prompted the stop.
If you were arrested on drug charges after a traffic stop in the Philadelphia area, consult a criminal defense attorney to explore your options. The police may have incorrectly conducted the stop or otherwise violated your rights in some way. The attorneys at The Skinner Law Firm can help. Reach us at (610) 436-1410 or through our online contact form.