Chronic: Don't get caught up... Know Your Rights!

After coming home from the local Irish bar, after the Saint Patty’s Day bash, you and your designated driver end the night with a nice fatty!  You get blitzed, throw the “roach” out of the car and continue to drive home.  The DD runs through a yellow light and here come the sirens….Waaaoooo, Waaaoooo… You know you’ve made a dumb choice and sadly and illegal one… you know the car smells like chronic, and you can’t help but think you’re going to be spending the night in jail. Knowing your rights may save your freedom. The police officer can pull you over if, and only if, you commit an initial traffic infraction or appear to be involved in criminal behavior.  “Gut feeling” is not enough, as the officer must have justification to pull over the car.  Once pulled over, if you do have an illegal substance in your vehicle, but not visibly showing or the smell exuding, probable cause and the Fourth Amendment play a huge part in the events that occur after being pulled over. Probable cause is the “reasonable belief or suspicion that a person has committed a crime”.  In addition, it is the standard by which a law enforcement officer has the power to conduct a personal or property search, make an arrest or obtain a warrant to arrest.  Our rights to privacy vs. the law enforcement’s probable cause standards are defined in the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution limits the power of the police to search people and their property, seize their illegal property (drugs or weapons), and make arrests.  Basically, the Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable” searches by law enforcement officers in the United States.  On the other hand, the Amendment permits legal, reasonable searches and seizures where probable illegal activity appears to exist.  In this case, the police may override privacy concerns and conduct a search if there is probable cause that they will find evidence you committed a crime or there is justification to search without executing a warrant. Knowing the Fourth Amendment and our right to privacy can save you from delivering incriminating evidence to police on a silver platter.  In the case of you and your friend pulled over after coming home from the Saint Patty’s Day party, the officer may approach your car and initially ask for license, registration and proof of insurance.  Whether he checks your information and then returns, or asks immediately if he can search your vehicle, you have every right to DENY this request and ask for a lawyer if you deem it necessary. You do not have to give a law enforcement officer permission to search your vehicle, and will not be penalized if you deny, especially if you know there is no probable cause to do so and you know you have something illegal present. If the officer has NO probable cause to search your vehicle, the knowledge of your rights probably just saved your behind!   If the officer does have probable cause, i.e smell of marijuana, or visible particles or a bag of marijuana present, he will notify you that he does not need permission and will conduct a search immediately.   If this occurs, you are pretty much screwed even though you tried hard by presenting your awareness and knowledge of the Fourth Amendement!  While knowing your rights is always important, legal, responsible decisions, especially while behind the wheel are always the real key to keeping your freedom, and keeping others safe!